By James Macharia
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Friday he had signed new anti-terrorism measures into law, a day after parliament approved them despite protests by some opposition lawmakers who said they threatened civil liberties and free speech.
The new measures will allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days, up from 90 days, and punish media organisations if they print material “likely to cause fear or alarm”.
Kenyatta has faced mounting pressure to boost security since a 2013 attack by Somali al Shabaab rebels on a Nairobi mall that killed 67 people. The militant Islamist group killed more that 60 people in two attacks this month.
“I am confident that you will find that there is nothing in this law that goes against the bill of rights or any provision of the constitution,” Kenyatta said in a televised address. “Its intent is to protect the lives and property for all the citizens of this Republic.”
The security law also compels landlords and hotels to provide security officers with information about their tenants and guests respectively.
During Thursday’s vote in parliament, television footage showed an opposition lawmaker sprinkling water from a bottle on deputy speaker Joyce Laboso, who was reading out the proposed changes to existing security law.
When speaker Justin Muturi took over the reading, opposition legislators jeered and hurled hard-cover books, forcing him to duck. Television footage showed legislators exchanging blows in the public gallery before the vote.
Kenyatta thanked lawmakers for passing the bill “despite the deplorable conduct of a few individuals who seem oblivious to the threat that is upon our country”. He said the new law would also tackle radicalisation and cross-border crimes such as poaching and drug-running.
The opposition and civil rights groups have called the law “draconian”.
“This will be a police state… this is autocratic leadership,” opposition MP John Mbadi told Reuters late on Thursday after the bill was passed by parliament.
Nine foreign diplomatic missions in Kenya, including those of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Australia, said in a statement on Wednesday they supported plans to improve security, but human rights should also be respected.