Kenyan Lawyers Want Anti-Terrorism Law Redrafted

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Kenyan lawyers want an anti-terrorism law being considered by the government to be redrafted, arguing that it does not respect basic human rights.

They said the proposed legislation's biggest failures include the possibility that a person could be deemed a terrorist, simply by his manner of dress.

Kenya has been the target of several major terror attacks since 1998, linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

The Suppression of Terrorism Bill, first published last April, gives police the right to search, without permission, any person or premises suspected to be associated with terrorism activities.

It also allows police to hold a terror suspect indefinitely without charge and without the right to contact family or seek legal assistance. International human rights groups have slammed Washington for similar conditions applied to terror suspects being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics of the Kenyan bill are also unhappy with provisions for life imprisonment, the extradition of suspects to other countries without standard legal safeguards, and state powers to confiscate assets of those found guilty of terrorism.

The draft law does not allow for compensation for anyone wrongly accused of terror activities.

Attorney Ken Nyaudi of the Law Society of Kenya told reporters that the legislation places the burden of proof on the accused person, rather than the prosecution, which he said was contrary to natural justice.

Nyaudi said the law was also "vague" in its definition of terrorism. Someone handling a weapon for sport or personal security could find himself on the wrong side of the law.

Another attorney, Harrison Kinyanjui, said the proposed law was controversial in that it could be used to associate Muslims with terrorism. Article 12 of the bill suggests that a person could be suspected of being a terrorist simply by wearing clothing similar to those worn by known terrorists.

Many of the law's critics here believe the government is under pressure from the United States and Britain to enact anti-terror legislation.

Kenya's crucial tourism industry has suffered significantly this year because of U.S. and British government advisories to their citizens to avoid travel to East Africa because of terrorism concerns.

About 10 percent of Kenya's 30 million strong population is Muslim. Political and religious representatives of the community had complained that they are being unfairly targeted.

The government has yet to give final word on whether the proposed law will be redrafted.

Although Kenya has suffered significant terrorist attacks, it still does not have a legal definition of terrorism.

On Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and the capital of neighboring Tanzania, Dar-es-Salaam, were bombed in an almost simultaneous attack carried out by al Qaeda. More than 250 people, including 12 Americans, were killed, and some 5,000 were hurt.

A year ago, an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa was bombed, and on the same day, terrorists tried unsuccessfully to shoot down an Israeli passenger airliner over Kenya. Twelve Kenyans and three Israelis died in the hotel attack.

Currently, terrorism suspects in Kenya are charged under normal criminal law.

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