Court scuppers new anti-terror laws


On Monday (February 23) Kenya’s Constitutional Court threw out some sections of a controversial national security law, annulling eight clauses, including those which curbed media freedom and capped the number of refugees and asylum-seekers to 150,000, although the government welcomed a ruling that leaves the “vast majority” in place.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga opposed the law changes
Opposition leader Raila Odinga opposed the law changes

“This case is about striking a balance between fighting terrorism and respecting human rights,” said Judge Isaac Lenaol.

A key clause which hands Kenyan authorities sweeping powers, including the right to hold terror suspects for nearly a year without charge, remains in place. But clauses that threatened journalists with up to three years behind bars if their reports “undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism” were dismissed.

Other clauses struck out include a 150,000 ceiling on the number of refugees allowed into Kenya – which would have led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and other conflict-hit countries in the region.

The security bill was passed by parliament in December 2014 after a chaotic debate marked by brawls between governing coalition and opposition MPs, and was signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta. But Kenya’s opposition launched a legal challenge, with its leader Raila Odinga saying Monday’s ruling “will go a long way in ensuring adherence to the constitution of Kenya and protecting civil liberties.”

The Kenyan government has been under pressure to get tough on terrorism since 67 people were killed in September 2013 in an al-Shabab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Al-Shabab say the attacks are retaliation for Kenya’s decision to send troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants.

The government said it was considering an appeal to return the law as passed by parliament.

“The government remains committed to the war against terrorist and criminal organisations, and will do everything, and use every arsenal at its disposal, to keep safe all those who live in Kenya,” presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu said in a statement.