Kenyans worry over "Patriot Act" bill

The human rights community fears that a anti-terrorism bill will be pushed through the Kenyan legislature due to complaints from the United States and the United Kingdom that the country's efforts to deal with terrorim is unsatifactory.

The draft Suppression of Terrorism Bill, first put forward in 2003, was withdrawn last year following widespread criticism.

Amnesty International says in a statement it is concerned by the law's "vague and broad definition" of terrorism and terrorist acts, and the wide-ranging powers it gives authorities to search and detain persons in connection with terrorist activities. Under the proposed legislation, police would have the power to arrest people and conduct searches without a warrant.

The organization has also condemned the bill's "denial of the right to legal representation during interrogation" and other aspects of the proposed law. The bill allows suspects to be held incommunicado for some time after their arrest.

Reports indicate that Kenyan authorities now wish to re-introduce the legislation. This follows U.S. and Israeli criticism of a Kenyan court's June decision to release seven persons implicated in a November 2002 attack on a hotel near the coastal resort of Mombasa, which claimed 16 lives.

Kenya was previously the victim of a terrorist attack in August 1998, when the American embassy in the capital, Nairobi, was bombed, killing more than 250. Almost simultaneously, the U.S. embassy in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam came under attack. The 1998 and 2002 incidents have been linked to al-Qaeda, the global terrorist network.

More recently, two of the men arrested in connection with the July 21 London bombing incident have links with East Africa: 24-year-old Yassin Hassan Omar immigrated to Britain from Somalia at the age of 11, while Ibrahim Muktar Said, 27, came from Eritrea in 1992, when he was 14.

"We are wary of the possibility of the government responding to the utterances of Britain and the U.S. without taking into consideration the human rights violations in the bill," said Ekitela Lokaale, program officer at the Research and Advocacy Unit of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental organization (NGO).


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