Kenyan judge suspends portion of controversial new security law

Kenyan judge suspends portion of controversial new security law
A protester opposed to Kenya's new security law struggles as riot police officers arrest him in front of the parliament building in Nairobi on Dec. 18. (Dai Kurokawa / European Pressphoto Agency)

Kenya's High Court on Friday suspended parts of the government's controversial new security law, rushed through parliament before Christmas, pending a full court hearing on whether the law violates the country's Bill of Rights.

Kenya's opposition and human rights groups are challenging the validity of the law, passed during an unruly session of parliament.

The security bill comes after a year in which hundreds of people died at the hands of terrorists, including two attacks near Mandera in November and December that saw 28 bus passengers and 36 quarry workers killed.

Justice George Odunga warned that new security laws must not limit freedoms enjoyed by Kenyans. The bill has been criticized for restricting the right to protest and forcing the media to get government permission before reporting on any counter-terrorist action.

One of the eight sections of the law he suspended called for imprisoning for up to three years members of the media who publish photographs of people killed or injured during terror attacks.

The judge said another section of the law, which would cut the current 500,000 Somali refugees allowed in Kenya to 150,000, contravened international law.

The law also requires anyone planning a protest rally must get permission from the cabinet secretary in charge of security.

“We cannot limit the freedoms and inalienable rights in the pretext of fighting terrorism,” Odunga said. “That must be done in the confines of the law.”

He said the right to a fair trial for all suspects must be jealously guarded by courts.

The law drew condemnation, including from the U.S. government. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last month that the measure's  provisions “appear to limit freedom of assembly and media and access to asylum for refugees” and called on Kenya to respect its international obligations and its own constitution.
Odunga said Kenyans would support all legal means to fight terrorism.

"Our country has been the victim of an undeclared war and we need new techniques and laws to eradicate the menace," he said.

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