Kenya: The Security Laws (Amendment) Act must be repealed

19/12/2014
Press release
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FIDH and KHRC express deep concern following the adoption by Parliament of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 and its subsequent signing into law by the President of Kenya today. In its current form, the Act contains several provisions which violate Kenya’s obligations under the 2010 Constitution and the regional and international human rights instruments in force. Our organisations urge the authorities of Kenya to repeal this draconian law and further call upon them to free all individuals arbitrarily arrested and detained after yesterday’s peaceful protests around Parliament.

On 18 December 2014, the Parliament of Kenya held a special sitting to deliberate on the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014. The debates were disrupted when Members of Parliament (MPs) were asked to start the third reading of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill. Opposition MPs strongly opposed the Bill, warning that Kenya was becoming a “police state” and refusing to vote. The Speaker of Parliament adjourned the debate twice, only for the chaos to continue when it resumed a third time in the afternoon. Several MPs were assaulted and fighting while live television broadcasts of the debate were cut the whole afternoon. According to consistent reports, Justin Muturi, Speaker of Parliament, was insisting on MPs to vote and adopt the amendments this day at all cost, what was eventually done. On 19 December, 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the Bill into law amid continued opposition.

“Guaranteeing national security is of great importance and Kenyan authorities need to address this challenge appropriately. However, this shall only be pursued in compliance with the law and with the utmost respect for human rights, democracy, and fundamental freedoms” , declared our organisations

Civil society organisations have been warning on the unconstitutionality and draconian aspects of many amendments in the Bill and called upon members of Parliament to refrain from assenting such a text. Peaceful demonstrations were held on 18 December 2014 to protest against the Bill. A heavy police presence was reported all around Parliament and 8 human rights defenders were brutally assaulted and arrested around 11 am. Gacheke Gachihi, Francis Sakwa, Kenneth Kirimi, Wilfred Olal, John Koome, Okello Odhiambo, Denis Okoth and Denis Olema are currently being held at central police station in Nairobi and face charges of taking part in an unlawful assembly and incitement to violence. According to information received from the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya, they all appeared in court on 19 December, 2014 where they were denied cash bail. The Court instead instituted a bond of 300,000 Kenyan Shillings for each.

“We strongly condemn the way Kenyan security forces suppressed the demonstrations, assaulting several protests. We urge Kenyan authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those arbitrarily arrested and detained, including at least 8 human rights defenders whose only crime was to carry out peaceful demonstrations for the protection of human rights” , said our organisations.

Background

On 10 December 2014, the government of Kenya published the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014, which makes major amendments to at least 22 laws and impact on several others including the laws relating to County government. The Bill notably restricts freedoms of expression and assembly – giving powers to the Cabinet Secretary to designate where and when certain public gatherings may be held – limit the access to justice and the rights of arrested and accused persons, – broadening the powers of security officials to arrest and detain people possibly violating due process rights – while expanding the powers of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to search and seize private property, and monitor communications without a court warrant.

The Bill also seeks to arbitrarily re-classify Public Benefits Organisations (PBOs). On 16 December, 2014, the NGO Coordination Board of the Kenyan Ministry of Devolution and Planning held a press conference in which it announced the de-registration of 522 PBOs. This decision has been taken against a backdrop of repeated attempts to hamper the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders.

Since their coming into office in 2013, Kenyan authorities have repeatedly attempted to clamp down on dissenting voices, either through the adoption of restrictive legislation aimed at further regulating the NGO or media sectors; through the violent police crackdown on demonstrators; or through judicial harassment of protesters and human rights defenders. In the name of protecting national security, authorities have already conducted anti-terrorism operations which have, in some cases, been marred by serious human rights abuses.

See FIDH-KHRC joint report: Kenya, One year in Office for Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto: Human Rights Record Marred by Abuses.

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