Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a controversial anti-terror bill on Friday despite a political uproar by opposition lawmakers who warned that the new measures would turn Kenya into a “police state.” The bill was signed a day after fights broke out in parliament on Thursday during a tense vote on the new measures.
Kenyatta headed off criticisms about the bill on Friday, denying that it would threaten civil liberties. "I am confident that you will find that there is nothing in this law that goes against the bill of rights or any provision of the constitution... its intent is to protect the lives and property for all the citizens of this Republic," he said in televised remarks, according to Reuters.
He also urged Kenyans to read the bill, which gives authorities new powers to crack down on terror suspects and to curtail press freedoms. Police can hold people suspected of terror offenses for 90 days. The new bill would allow them to hold terror suspects for nearly a year without charge and gives authorities the power to increase sentences and tap phones, Al Jazeera reported. Journalists could also face up to three years in prison if their work is seen as undermining “investigations or security operations relating to terrorism,” and must obtain police permission before publishing information related to investigations on terrorism.
Opposition politicians have vocally decried the measures. “This is a serious assault on the freedoms that Kenyans are enjoying today,” opposition coalition leader Moses Wetangula said, according to Al Jazeera. The opposition, along with civil society groups and the media, are planning to go to court to challenge the law, the BBC reported. The passionate outcry from the opposition ignited during Thursday’s parliamentary session, when MPs tore up the bill and chanted anti-government slogans. A fistfight also broke out during the session, which was shown live on television.
Kenya’s government has argued that the bill is a necessary measure in heading off the threat of terrorism faced by the country, which is in the process of a security crackdown following a series of recent attacks. The Somali militant group al-Shabab has killed 64 people in two separate attacks in Kenya’s northeast Mandera region since last month, according to the BBC. The group was also responsible for last year’s Westgate mall siege in Nairobi that resulted in the death of 67 people.