NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's president said Friday that the country needs new laws to protect it against "the enemy who is in our midst," a reference to Somali militants and sympathizers who have launched dozens of attacks in the country in recent years.
Noting that hundreds of Kenyans have been killed in terror attacks over the last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta defended government plans to pass more stringent security laws — legislation that critics say curtails fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution.
Speaking on the 51st anniversary of Kenya's independence from Britain, Kenyatta said he wanted to remind the country's international partners — the U.S. and U.K. are often seen as the two most important — that Kenya is fighting a proxy war "on behalf of all nations and peoples who embrace freedom and democracy." The country, he said, deserves support and solidarity.
"It is clear that our security system requires enhancement to confront the twin challenges of domestic and international security threats. An international war is happening in and outside Kenya's borders. We are also confronting highly trained and dangerously armed combatants embedded in our communities," Kenyatta said.
Kenya has suffered terror attacks since it sent troops to Somalia in October 2011 to fight the terror group al-Shabab. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two massacres in the last month that killed 64 non-Muslim Kenyans.
The legislation, which was debated in parliament Thursday, would impose a fine of $56,000 or a three-year prison term, or both, for journalists whose reports on any police activities are deemed to undermine the fight against terrorism. The fine also applies to journalists who publish pictures of terrorism victims without police permission. It also allows the Interior Ministry to decide if, when and where public demonstrations can be held.
Legislators voted Thursday to allow the legislation to go forward for a final phase of the legislative process. Parliament then adjourned until February but the speaker could call a special session.