Chaos as Kenyan MPs pass contested security laws


A man chants slogans as he is arrested outside Parliament during a protest over the controversial security law amendments on December 18, 2014. PHOTO | RAPHAEL NJOROGE

The ruling Jubilee Coalition on Thursday pushed through controversial amendments to security-related legislation in a chaotic day-long session marked by opposition shouting, singing and shoving.

Attempts to disrupt proceedings, with scuffles and fights breaking out, were ultimately unsuccessful.

A besieged National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi forced the matter through when he took over the chairmanship of the Committee of the Whole House shortly after 4pm and called out each amendment, surrounded by parliamentary orderlies and Jubilee MPs, even as the opposition protested.

Mr Muturi had twice suspended debate on the amendments that, among other provisions, would allow suspects to be held without charge for 360 days, up from 90 days; compel landlords to provide information about their tenants and punish media organisations for printing material that is “likely to cause fear or alarm”.

Mr Muturi took charge of the third and final reading of the amendments after the House completed a less acrimonious debate on the suitability of Kajiado Central MP Joseph Nkaissery for the Interior secretary position to which he has been nominated.

Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso had twice failed to take the House through the amendments as her voice was drowned out by the shouting and jostling that at one point saw a Member of Parliament pour water on their opponents.

Opposition MPs had vowed to block passing of the amendments they see as reversing the gains made in the fight for freedom and democracy in Kenya.

“We are not going to allow this Bill to be passed by a few individuals who do not have the interest of Kenyans at heart as its contents are not good for Kenyans,” said Ababu Namwamba, the Budalangi MP, who is also ODM secretary-general.

Mr Namwamba condemned discontinuation of live streaming of the parliamentary proceedings by national broadcaster KBC, terming it abuse of taxpayers whose taxes are used to run the corporation.

The broadcast feed is shared with other television stations.

“KBC is paid for by the taxpayers money and it cannot be in order to stop it from airing the session,” he said.

KBC and the Bunge TV, which were airing the morning session, were suspended after the proceedings turned chaotic. The live coverage was also interrupted as the amendments were read on the floor of the House.

Journalists were also blocked from covering the session from inside Parliament as they were denied entry to the media gallery.

Mr Nkaissery, in his acceptance speech, said that he supported the amendments, which have been opposed by media owners, civil society groups and the Commission for Implementation of the Constitution.

READ: Rights groups want six clauses struck out of Security Bill

The proposed laws, among other things, allow the registrar of persons to revoke one’s citizenship by retaining their IDs. The laws also impose harsh penalties on publishers of ‘images or information that seeks to promote terrorism activities’.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his Jamhuri Day address last Friday, urged the MPs to pass the Bill as it was the only way to address the rising cases of insecurity in the country.

Jubilee MPs accused their Cord counterparts of trying to stop a Bill that meant good for the security of the country.

There was heavy security personnel outside Parliament with pedestrians barred from using roads leading to the House. By 3pm, at least ten people had been arrested by the police for trying to demonstrate.

Inside Parliament, orderlies guarded the ceremonial mace, which is a symbol of authority in the House, after reports that opposition MPs planned to grab it.

The mace signifies that the House is formally in session and its removal would have brought an end to official proceedings.

Earlier, the Speaker had issued a stern warning to Members who would attempt to take the mace, saying that they risked being suspended from Parliament.

This was in reference to last week’s incident where an MP attempted to take the mace during the second reading.