OP-ED: Kenya’s New Security Bill Infringes On Rights Without Tackling Sources of Insecurity

kenya-parliament_3315 December 2014 – The newly proposed security bill on the floor of Kenya’s parliament that was emotionally drafted in response to the string of terror attacks in the country has caused a brouhaha in social media and the public discourse. This draconian legislation appears to lack substance and strategic thinking.

If the new security bill, which limits media freedom and grants the intelligence community unprecedented power, is passed as it is then Kenya will be thrown back to the Moi era. In the name of security, Kenyans may easily lose all the freedoms they hardly fought for and have their ideals abandoned.

The new security laws also seek to limit the number refugees in the country from the current half-million refugees, most of them from Somalia, to 150,000 refugees. This would virtually send about 350,000 asylum seekers back to Somalia where there is still no safety.

The problems that caused these refugees to flee their own country is still there and sending them back without their consent would be a violation of international laws, as well as the Tripartite Agreement between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR outlining the process for voluntary repatriation.

When things are done emotionally and without caution, it has a long effect that will haunt society for some time. For instance, when 9-11 occurred in the US thirteen years ago, the US congress hastily passed draconian laws that were against many Americans’ ideals. These hasty security reforms led to the US security apparatus to torture suspects, indiscriminate surveillance, extrajudicial killings and contributed to a feeling that the country was engaged in open-ended wars. 

Those laws failed to produce the degree of tangible results that was promised. It also provided an important fuel for narratives used by extremists who allege that the US is a force for evil.

Conveniently, the new security bill came out just as an al-Jazeera investigative unit exposed the Kenya’s death squads, which shocked many Kenyans and started re-raising many questions.  

These clandestine squad was mainly meant to kill terror suspects when the government failed to gather enough evidence to sue them in the court of law. The timing of release of the security bill may not have been a coincidence and may have been meant to divert Kenyans’ attention. 

It is also clear that these laws are meant to intimidate those few journalists who go beyond the normal stories and press releases and try to hold the government’s feet to the fire.

Activists and right groups have criticized the new security laws amid public demands to sack incompetent security officials to improve results rather than controversially making sweeping and controversial reforms.

Media Control

The fourth estate’s main role is to monitor how the government uses its power and to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Unfortunately, over the last decade, in the name of security they have abdicated their roles and many media outlets are either self-censored, subservient to government’s interests by amplifying the government’s message, or they are censored by the government itself and prevented from reaching the public.

The newly proposed security laws target investigative journalists and the media in general. It’s seeking to jail (3 years) or fine (Ksh 5 million) against journalists who “undermine” government investigations or security operations through publications or broadcasting. These potential measures reveal an intent to kill the messenger and keep the public in the dark about state-sponsored transgressions.

Kenyan media should not be browbeaten by these laws and should be allowed to carry out their earnest endeavor to inform Kenyans and defend their hardly fought freedoms.

Furthermore, Kenyans have the right to be informed, and that right shouldn’t be deprived in the name of security. The so-called war-on-terror hurled us into a dark tunnel and often deprived us of our rights. 

Kenyans should fight back tooth and nail to retain their right to information.

The Peril of Empowering the National Intelligence Service

The newly proposed security law is also granting the national intelligence service (NIS) unprecedented powers. The NIS can bug your house, tap your phone, apprehend and interrogate in the name of security without a court order.

It’s myopic to give any intelligence agency such kind of power, especially in a society like Kenya where impunity is institutionalized.

If members of intelligence community can tap your phone or bug your house anytime they want that means Kenyans should surrender their right to privacy and start dwelling under Big Brother. Indiscriminate mass surveillance or eavesdropping is not unique in the Kenyan context. Many other foreign countries have been using this technique on its own citizens to counter terror attacks and to oppress political opponents.

In my opinion, these procedures have not produced results valuable or ethical enough to justify the violations of civil liberties that Western countries in particular have attempted to export.

The recent al Jazeera documentary Inside Kenya’s death squad reveals the alarming state of human rights violations in the country, from mysterious disappearance to extrajudicial killings by the police and in collaboration with NIS. The security apparatus are behaving like mafia, and ironically they are immune from prosecution.

Similarly, we are likely to witness without an iota of doubt worsening human rights violations in Kenya if the NIS is given these roles in the new security laws. 

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States first line of defense, is a classic example of how intelligence agencies often misuse the power that’s given to them. The report released recently by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reveals the CIA’s brutal torture techniques and how they lied to the congress and the public about their covert torture programs. Despite all that, they failed to retrieve valuable information from the suspects, according to the report. So if the CIA can commit such a scale of human rights abuses, what can we expect from an empowered NIS of Kenya where impunity is institutionalized?

Muslim Community Feels Targeted

The Muslim community has also raised their concerns about the new security laws, and they believe that they will once again be made the victim of flawed security operations sparked by flawed security laws. Before and after the Kenya Defense Forces’ incursion into Somalia in late 2011, the Kenyan Muslim community has been a regular target of the police and intelligence agency.

The current myopic counter-terrorism policies has alienated a certain faction of young Muslim Kenyans, thus introducing these new security laws will be the latest straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many Muslims believe that the security apparatus seeks to infiltrate the Muslim community and bug their sanctuaries in the name of security, thus violating the right to worships and religious freedom.

Many Muslims youth and clerics have mysteriously been “disappeared” or killed by government-sanctioned hit squads in the last few years, and this has appeared to radicalize even many law-abiding and patriotic Muslim Kenyans who become ready to fight the government because they feel oppressed, demeaned and vilified.

The only option at their disposal, as one of the al-Jazeera investigative unit interviewees said, is to revolt and defend their dignity. Kenyans continue to wait on the community-based response that is a vitally important but missing component from the Kenyan government’s counter-terrorism toolbox.

Ahmed Hassan is a social activist and critic interested in Somali politics from Dadaab refugee camp. You can find him on Twitter at @pansomalist.

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