US President Barack Obama. A state Department spokesperson has said Washington is “disappointed” by the passage of Kenya’s security Law PHOTO | JIM BOURG | AFP
BY BMJ MURIITHI,
disappointment with the manner in which Kenya’s 2014 Security Laws ( Amendment) Bill was passed by parliament and the subsequent assent by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We are disappointed, by the very limited time allowed for debate and consultation on the 2014 Security Laws (Amendment) Bill prior to its passage and enactment into law,” said a press statement signed by State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki in Washington DC Friday evening.
The Obama administration also took issue with a number of provisions in the legislation. “We are also concerned about several provisions in the legislation, including those that appear to limit freedom of assembly and media, and access to asylum for refugees,” said Ms Psaki.
“As a key partner in the global effort to counter terrorism, we expect the Kenyan Government to ensure that its counterterrorism efforts live up to Kenya’s international commitments and its own constitution. Protecting Kenya’s constitution and upholding human rights, democracy, and international obligations are among the most effective ways to bolster security,” the statement added.
Washington also says it is seeking further information on the December 16 announcement by the Kenyan NGO Board to deregister hundreds of NGOs for failing to file their audited reports and another 15 for suspected links to terrorism.
“A strong civil society is vital to democracy, security, and prosperity. We urge the Government of Kenya to ensure the regulation of NGOs is transparent, fair, and grounded in clear criteria that do not limit free expression, association, or assembly,” said Ms Psaki.
Ms Psaki however noted that the U.S. Government is firmly committed to supporting Kenya’s efforts to defeat al-Shaba and to ensure security of all of its citizens.
It was the first time the Obama administration was commenting on the issue since the Bill was passed amid acrimony and pandemonium in the Kenyan parliament and the subsequent presidential assent.
On Thursday the world watched in disbelief as Kenyan lawmakers exchanged blows, shredded copies of the order paper, tussled with one another and even splashed water on deputy speaker Joyce Laboso.
Almost all major international media houses prominently covered the shameful event, with New York Times saying the scenes were “something akin to a rugby scrum, with lawmakers in suits and ties wrestling over papers amid futile cries of ‘Order! Order’ from the House speaker.”
While assenting to the Bill Friday, President Kenyatta said “all concerns” raised by dissatisfied parties had been addressed by the parliamentary committees that fine-tuned the Bill before its passage. He also said he was satisfied the law did not infringe on the Bill of Rights as claimed by its opponents.
“Thursday’s ugly scenes were watched all over world and have the potential of damaging the already ailing Kenyan tourism industry,” said Jon Mutua in an opinion piece on Ksnmedia.com. “I wonder whether any of the protagonists thought about this before causing the pandemonium,” he added.
The contentious law allows the security services to hold suspects for nearly a year without charges and eliminates several checks and balances on presidential power. The bill also empowers a domestic spy force to carry out covert operations.
Investigators now have more powers to tap phones and journalists could face jail terms for publishing pictures and stories on terrorism without police permission.
Opposition leaders and Human rights groups have vigorously opposed the law, saying Mr. Kenyatta’s government is creeping dangerously toward dictatorship.
On Wednesday, a group of Western envoys issued a cautious public statement that they welcomed “the effort by the government of Kenya to revise and update the country’s security legislation.” The statement added that it was important to respect human rights.