Nairobi: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a controversial anti-terrorism bill that sparked brawls in parliament and provoked charges that it violates basic freedoms.
Kenyatta said he was satisfied that the text adopted by the National Assembly on Thursday did not breach the country's bill of rights.
"All concerns raised by the different stakeholders were addressed by the relevant parliamentary committees," he told journalists yesterday, calling on all Kenyans to read the new law and decide for themselves.
"Its intent is one -- just one -- to protect the lives and property of all the citizens of this republic," he said.
The new law gives authorities sweeping powers to crack down on terror suspects and curtail press freedoms in a country that has suffered a string of attacks by Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.
The controversial measures extend the time police can hold terror suspects from the current 90 days to nearly a year and increase the sentences they face.
Meanwhile, journalists could face up to three years behind bars if their reports "undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism", or if they publish images of terror victims without permission from the police.
The government argues the measures are necessary to confront the militants and says that amendments to the original text, giving the courts more oversight over the police and intelligence services, make it constitutionally sound.
The opposition and rights groups, however, dismissed the amendments as sugercoating and said the law risked turning Kenya into a police state.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was "firmly committed to supporting Kenya's efforts to defeat Shebab and ensure the security of its citizens."
However, although the laws were "designed to increase Kenya's ability to prevent and defeat terrorism," Psaki said, "we're disappointed that such important legislation was not given the proper time for a necessary dialogue."
"We would urge the Kenyan government to ensure that its counter terrorism efforts respect the rights of the Kenyan people and live up to the Kenyan constitution and rule of law," Psaki said.