Fear of police listening in on phone calls turns Muslims against anti-terror Bill
Posted Sunday, July 22 2012 at 23:30
- Human rights groups also criticise the legislation for having a general definition of the crime, saying this could see some rogue police officers press terrorism charges against people they arrest over minor crimes
Ten years after a law to combat terrorism was drafted in Kenya, with amended versions mooted in between the years, the country remains without legislation, even with increasing terror threats.
Civil society and Muslim human rights groups have, over the years, led campaigns against such law, forcing the government to withdraw the Suppression of Terror Bill, 2003, from Parliament, the only time it came close to becoming law.
The government then brought a remake three years later, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, 2006, which was also shot down at parliamentary committee level.
Of late, the government has drafted the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2012, and it is expecting a smooth ride this time round since some of the hostile groups have softened their stances.
The Association of Muslim Organisations in Kenya (Amok) was the first to support enactment of an anti-terror law in Kenya, setting a precedent, and similar groups have joined in.
The groups have not expressly opposed the Bill but want to be involved in the drafting, with a view to making some amendments, before the proposed law is taken to Parliament. The draft law is currently pending before the Cabinet.
Amok director-general Fazul Mohamed said the organisation would hold meetings in mosques and schools to mobilise support for the new law.
“Terrorism is no longer an international problem. It is here with us and we can no longer ignore it and a good law can really help in dealing decisively with it, and the inclusion of other interventions, of course,” he said.
Mr Mohamed added: “But we have a problem with the way the Bill defines terrorism. It is too general while we think the definition should be specific. If left without changes, a rogue police officer can abuse the law and arrest someone for making noise on the streets and press terrorism charges.”
The law also seeks to give the police immense powers when spying on suspects, including taping telephone conversations to collect evidence against them, another provision which Amok is uncomfortable with, saying it violates human rights.
Mr Mohamed led Amok officials to the Internal Security ministry headquarters in a bid to have permanent secretary Mutea Iringo agree to their proposals before the Bill is discussed by the Cabinet.
In part, the Bill defines terrorism as “an act or threat of action that involves death, serious bodily harm, serious damage to property, endangers a person’s life, creates serious risk to the safety and health of the public, involves use of firearms or explosives”, among others.
Seize property of suspects
A section of MPs has vowed to fight the Bill once tabled in Parliament.
Nominated MP Sheikh Mohamed Dor told a meeting of Muslim groups in Nairobi that he was opposed to it if the government presented it without changes.
“Previous attempts faced criticism. I can assure you that this Bill will be rushed the way they do it but we have learnt a lesson. As secretary-general of the Council of Sheikhs and Imams in Kenya, we don’t support this Bill as it is,” he told the participants.
The meeting was attended by officials of the Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri), the Muslim Rights Forum and the Empowered Muslim Youth Initiative.
Sheikh Dor is uncomfortable with the provision that empowers the government to seize property of suspected terrorists.