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Friday, 19 December 2014

Kenyan leader signs controversial anti-terror bill into law

NAIROBI: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday signed into law a controversial anti-terror bill that sparked brawls in parliament and charges that it violated basic freedoms. 

Kenyatta said he was satisfied that the amendments passed by the National Assembly on Thursday did not breach the bill of rights. 

"All concerns raised by the different stakeholders were addressed by the relevant parliamentary committees," he told journalists, calling on all Kenyans to read the new law and ascertain this for themselves. 

"Its intent is one - just one - to protect the lives and property of all the citizens of this republic," he said. 

The new law gives authorities sweeping powers to crack down on terror suspects and curtail press freedoms in a country that has suffered a string of attacks by Somalia-based al-Shabaab Islamists. 

The controversial measures extend the time police can hold terror suspects from the current 90 days to nearly a year, increase sentences and give more powers to tap phones. 

Journalists could face up to three years behind bars if their reports "undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism," or if they publish images of terror victims without permission from the police. 

The government argues the measures are necessary to confront the militants, but rights groups and the opposition say they are an assault on basic freedoms. 

Divisions over the legislation triggered heated exchanges between lawmakers that culminated in a brawl, forcing the vote to be repeatedly delayed on Thursday. 

Kenyatta said the conduct of MPs opposed to the bill was "deplorable" and accused them of "being oblivious to the threat that is upon our country at this point in time."