Controversial security law amended in Kenya

A Kenyan court throws out parts of an anti-terrorism law seen as stifling the media but leaves a provision allowing police to hold terror suspects for nearly a year without charge.

NAIROBI, KENYA (FEBRUARY 23, 2015) (REUTERS) – Sections of an anti-terrorism law were deemed unconstitutional by a Kenyan court on Monday (February 23) in what was a partial setback for President Uhuru Kenyatta who has faced mounting pressure to boost security after a series of Islamist attacks including the 2013 attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed 67 people.

Parts of the Security Laws Amendment Act that would punish media organisations if they print material “likely to cause fear or alarm” and a cap on the number of refugees allowed in the country were thrown out but it kept intact provisions that would allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days and compel landlords to provide information about their tenants.

“Section 12 of the Security Laws Amendment Act and Section 66 of the penal code is hereby declared unconstitutional for violating the freedom of expression of the media guaranteed under articles 33 & 34 of the constitution. Section 64 of the act which introduced section 30 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is also declared unconstitutional for the same reasons. (B) Section 34 of the Security Laws Amendment Act is hereby declared unconstitutional in so far as it includes telescopes in section 2 of the Firearms Act. Three, section 16 of the Security Laws Amendment Act and section 42A of the Criminal Act Procedure C ode has been declared unconstitutional as they violate the rights of an accused person to be informed in advance of the evidence the prosecution intends to rely on under article 52 of the constitution section 20 of the Security Amendments Act,” said Kenyan Judge Justice Isaac Lenaola.

An opposition coalition and rights groups challenged the law, which was passed in December, saying it was hasty and undermined basic freedoms.

After the ruling, a group of people cheered and chanted in the courtroom: “Our people, united, will never be defeated.”

Kenyan opposition leaders whose coalition was part of those opposing the laws said Kenyans had come out as winners and he was looking forward to the government to appeal the judgement.

“We shall exercise the right of the people of this country to go to the next court which is the court of appeal. We have already heard that the state intends to appeal to the extent that we won and we want to tell them, let them come along, we are ready for them and we will meet them in the next court. We shall not and never relent until the freedoms that Kenyans fought for, shed blood, lost lives, are exercised and enjoyed to the full,” said opposition leader Moses Wetangula.

The law was passed during a chaotic session of parliament in which opposition legislators, citing a threat to civil liberties and free speech, threw books at the speaker, shouted, chanted and sprinkled water over the deputy.

In its ruling on Monday (February 23), the five-judge constitutional panel described the parliamentary scene as a “loud consultation” and found that the process had not raised constitutional problems.

Nine foreign missions in Kenya, including those of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Australia, issued a statement prior to the bill’s passage saying they supported plans to improve security but human rights should also be respected.

Under Kenya’s anti-terrorism laws, four men were charged with committing a “terrorist act” by helping al Qaeda-linked militants launch a murderous attack on a Kenyan shopping mall.

They are accused of giving support and shelter to gunmen who killed at least 67 people during the assault on Nairobi’s Westgate complex that started on September 21.