Proposed changes to Kenya’s security laws would curb fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution, Kenya’s main opposition coalition and human rights groups have said.
The opposition political coalition CORD said the government is rushing the proposed amendments through parliament and that if they pass Kenyans will lose civil liberties.
The legislation, which was debated in parliament on Thursday, would level a fine of $56,000 or a three-year prison term or both for journalists whose reports on any police activities are deemed to undermine the fight against terrorism.
The fine also applies to journalists who publish pictures of terrorism victims without police permission. It also allows the Interior Ministry to decide if, when and where public demonstrations can be held.
The legislation also proposes to arm Kenya’s spy agency and allow them to arrest suspects and conduct pre-emptive, covert strikes against suspected terrorists.
It proposes to allow the president to fire and hire the police and spy chief, powers that were removed under Kenya’s new 2010 constitution because of abuse by previous presidents.
Legislators on Thursday voted to allow the legislation to go forward for a third and final phase of the legislative process, the Associated Press reported.
Parliament then adjourned until February but the speaker could call a special sitting to discuss the proposal.
Kenya has suffered a series of attacks since it sent its troops to Somalia in October 2011 to fight the armed group al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two massive attacks in the last month that killed 64 non-Muslim Kenyans.
Asman Kamama, chairman of the Administrative and National Security Committee who proposed the legislation, justified the proposals by saying: “These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary decisions.”
Kamama compared the legislation to the American Patriotic Act enacted after September 11, 2011.
Legislator Ababu Namwamba said Kenya’s problem is not a lack of anti-terror laws but a lack of enforcement of those laws because of endemic corruption.
“This is a sad day. That’s why I am dressed like a man going to a funeral. We are mourning the death of the constitutional gains we have made, “said Namwamba.