Kenya is facing increasing international pressure to enact the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2012, amid calls by a section of the local Muslim community to have it amended, lest police use it to infringe on the civil liberties of Kenyans.
The Bill, which has already undergone a second reading in Parliament is being pushed by the Executive following a threat by the international coalition fighting terrorism to blacklist Kenya if it is not enacted into law by October 1.
In August, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, warned that Kenya could be blacklisted by October for lacking laws to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.
James Manyonge, the legal advisor at the Financial Reporting Centre said the threat is serious as it would mean that transactions with Kenya will be scrutinised, especially inter-bank transactions, which would cause further delays and make the country risky to do business with.
Kenya has been experiencing terrorist attacks since 1998, but has been slow to enact anti-terrorism laws despite pressure from the US.
The country’s entry into Somalia last October and subsequent grenade attacks by Al Shabaab have heightened the need for anti-terrorism laws.
On her recent visit to Kenya, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton put pressure on the government to enact the law on terror, arguing that it had been shelved for too long.
But those pushing for amendments to the Bill argue that if enacted in its present state, it will take away the civil liberties Kenyans have gained over the past 20 years.
Abdikadir Mohamed, the chairman of the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee in parliament, who has been pushing for amendments, said the contentious matter is whether it will uphold constitutional safeguards contained in the Bill of Rights.
He pointed out that the definition of terrorist act in Article 2 of the Bill is ambiguous and leaves the onus to the police of determining who a terrorist is.
Muslims have specifically taken offence at Article 2 (b) that partially defines a terrorist act as an action “which is carried out with the aim of advancing a political, religious, ethnic, ideological or other cause.” They say this could be used to curtail freedom of worship or advancing religious faith.
Mr Abdulkadir cited Article 3, which he says gives the Inspector-General immense powers and which goes against the constitutional right to remain silent.
The section gives the Inspector-General the power to arrest if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that an entity has committed or is preparing to commit a terrorist act, attempted to commit; or participated in or facilitated the commission of a terrorist act.
In the region, Uganda was the first to enact an anti-terrorism law in 2002.
But just as in Kenya, Muslims in Uganda have been up in arms against the law, particularly after the 2010 Kampala bombing in which 98 per cent of the suspects arrested were Muslims. Counter terrorism police specifically combed suburbs where Muslims are concentrated.