Kenya’s Opposition Wants to Block New Security Law in Court

Kenya’s opposition coalition filed a court challenge on Tuesday to overturn new anti-terrorism laws it says are hasty and undermine basic freedoms.

The measures will allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days, four times longer than before, compel landlords to provide information about their tenants, and punish media that print material “likely to cause fear or alarm.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who championed the amendments, has faced pressure to boost security after a spate of deadly Islamist attacks over the past 18 months.

Somali militant group al-Shabab, which massacred 67 people in a Nairobi shopping mall last year, killed more than 60 in two attacks this month in northeastern Kenya.

9/11 laws comparison

The government says the new rules compare favorably with U.S. laws enacted after 9/11. Opposition leaders say they threaten civil liberties and free speech, and might unfairly target the minority Muslim population. It was not clear how long the High Court would take to consider their challenge.

“Those who conceived these new laws and rushed them through the National Assembly did so in the hope that Kenyans would be too busy enjoying the [Christmas] season to notice the evil being plotted by their leaders,” Raila Odinga, an opposition leader and former prime minister, said in a statement.

“But we love our country and our freedom more than the merry-making.”

The measures were approved last week during several chaotic sessions of parliament, with rival lawmakers exchanging punches.

Nine foreign diplomatic missions, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Australia, said in a statement that they supported plans to improve security, but human rights should also be respected.

Over the weekend, a spokesman for Kenyatta singled out the United States for siding with “the noisemakers” and said Kenya’s law was better than security legislation adopted by the United States after the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“What is more, Kenya has no Guantanamo Bay!” Munyori Buku, senior director of public communication, said on the president’s website.