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Kenyan opposition challenges anti-terror law in court

FRANCE 24 | Screen grab of a Kenyan newspaper announcing passage of new anti-terrorism laws

Kenya’s opposition coalition filed a court challenge on Tuesday to overturn new anti-terrorism laws it says are hasty and undermine basic freedoms.

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The measures will allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days – four times longer than before –, compel landlords to provide information about their tenants, and require the media to seek consent from the police before reporting on terror-related stories.

Opposition leaders say they threaten civil liberties and free speech, and might unfairly target the minority Muslim population.

“Those who conceived these new laws and rushed them through the National Assembly did so in the hope that Kenyans would be too busy enjoying the (Christmas) season to notice the evil being plotted by their leaders,” Raila Odinga, an opposition leader and former prime minister, said in a statement.

“But we love our country and our freedom more than the merry-making,” he said.

It was not clear how long the High Court would take to consider their challenge.

‘Back to a one-party state’

While the new laws have troubled many in Kenya, they have been a particular point of concern for the country’s media outlets.

Under the rules, publications can be punished by a fine of around 45,000 euros and three years in prison for printing material “likely to cause fear or alarm”.

"It’s actually an impractical law. How to implement it will be a nightmare for the government, because for a start, no credible journalist, no credible editor, will accept the arrangement,” Linus Kaikai, editor of Kenya’s Nation Media Group, told FRANCE 24. “We will not go to the police stations to get stories cleared for air."

Pamela Asigi, who works as head of news production at Nation Media Group, echoed Kaikai’s comments.

"I'm worried that we are going back to what we saw in the early 90s, when you could not even say anything about the government. For me, I think it’s taking us back to a one-party state," she said.

Shabaab threat

The measures were championed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faced increasing pressure to boost security following a spate of deadly Islamist attacks over the past 18 months.

Somali militant group al Shabaab, which massacred 67 people in a Nairobi shopping mall last year, killed more than 60 in two attacks this month in northeastern Kenya.

The measures were approved last week during several chaotic sessions of parliament, with rival lawmakers exchanging punches.

Nine foreign diplomatic missions, including those of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Australia, said in a statement that they supported plans to improve security, but human rights should also be respected.

Over the weekend, a spokesman for Kenyatta singled out the United States for siding with “the noisemakers,” and said Kenya’s law was better than security legislation adopted by the US after the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“What is more, Kenya has no Guantanamo Bay!” Munyori Buku, senior director of public communication, said on the president’s website.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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