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Renewed opposition to Kenyan anti-terror law

Rights activists in Kenya have intensified their campaign against a proposed anti-terrorism law — this after a travel advisory issued by the United States warned of possible terrorist attacks in the East African country during the upcoming World Cross-Country Championships.

“We do not condone terrorism, but let the fight against terrorism be done in a way that respects human rights,” said Mwambi Mwasaru, executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental body. “It [the proposed law] erodes the rights of Kenyans to freedom of expression and assembly. It openly violates even the basic human rights.”

More than 200 people were killed and close to 5 000 injured in a 1998 terrorist attack that targeted the US embassy in the capital, Nairobi (a near-simultaneous attack took place at the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).

This was followed by an incident in 2002 in which 10 Kenyans and three Israelis were killed when a car bomb exploded at an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal resort of Mombasa. An unsuccessful missile attack on an Israeli jet that had taken off from Mombasa’s airport occurred the same day.

All of these incidents have been linked to al-Qaeda.

The Suppression of Terrorism Bill, published in 2003, provides for terror suspects to be detained without trial indefinitely, and for confiscation of their assets — among other provisions.

It was rejected after fierce opposition from rights groups, but came under discussion again last October during a meeting that included activists and legal experts. However, activists claim the legislation still contravenes human rights — and they now plan to take the initiative with a security strategy for Kenya.

“We have decided to go a step further and come up with our own concept paper on security. Terrorism is just a small part [of security problems] to Kenyans. We have a more serious problem of rising crime,” said al-Amin Kimathi, an official of the Kenya Human Rights Network, an umbrella body for human rights groups. The paper, which will make provision for protection of rights, is to be given to officials for consideration.

Terror suspects

Anti-terrorism law or not, the treatment being meted out to terror suspects is already cause for concern.

In January this year, police arrested more than 70 people over alleged links to terrorism. “Most of these people stayed in police custody for almost a month, contrary to the law. Some of them were non-Kenyans; they stayed incommunicado, with their relatives not knowing where they were,” said Kimathi.

The law currently allows a suspect to be held for a maximum of 24 hours — or, in the case of capital offences, 14 days — before the person is presented in court or released.

“The actions of the police have caused the commission to suspect that the government is applying the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill by the back door,” noted a statement from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a government-appointed body that has autonomy.

The March 24 World Cross-Country Championships, scheduled to take place in Mombasa, is expected to bring together athletes from 66 countries.

Kenyan authorities have dismissed last week’s advisory about the event as baseless and malicious — and lashed out at the US for issuing warnings that are capable of hampering development in the country.

The government has further written to the International Association of Athletics Federations, assuring it that security measures are in place to ensure the cross-country event goes off peacefully — this after the association requested clarity on the US advisory.

Last November, the US issued a similar alert when thousands of delegates from across the world were travelling to Nairobi to attend talks on climate change. — IPS

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Joyce Mulama
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