Angry lawmakers force delay in vote on Kenyan security law

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 18, 2014 5:43 AM

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan opposition lawmakers disrupted a vote on Thursday to authorize tough terrorism-related measures that rights activists say threaten civil liberties and free speech, forcing the parliamentary speaker to postpone the session.

Television footage showed members of the opposition yelling, tearing up papers and shouting down the speaker of parliament, Justin Muturi, who then suspended the session and said it would resume in the afternoon.

Journalists were barred from the parliament's press gallery and the live transmission was discontinued.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has faced mounting pressure to boost security since an attack in September 2013 on Nairobi's Westgate mall that left 67 people dead. He has urged lawmakers to pass the amendments.

The bill would amend Kenya's existing security law to allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days -- up from the current 90 days --, compel landlords to provide information about their tenants and punish media organizations for printing material that is "likely to cause fear or alarm". The proposal does not define such material.

"There was disagreement inside the chamber over whether to continue to pass the bill or not and ... it degenerated into chaos," said Mohamed Junet, an opposition member of parliament.

The security law amendments were proposed by Kenyatta's allies in his Jubilee coalition. Some form of the bill is expected to pass but it was not immediately clear on Thursday whether all its proposals would be included.

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

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Gareth Jones)