The Kenyan Parliament on Thursday passed a divisive, sweeping counterterrorism bill after a chaotic session in which lawmakers shredded copies of the text and tussled with one another. Even a few wild blows were exchanged.
The bill, backed by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, allows the security services to hold suspects for nearly a year without charges and eliminates several checks and balances on presidential power. The bill also empowers a domestic spy force to carry out covert operations.
A leading television station aired a broadcast Thursday night calling Parliament the “house of shame.” Footage showed the floor of Parliament turning into something akin to a rugby scrum, with lawmakers in suits and ties wrestling over papers amid futile cries from the speaker of “Order! Order!”
Opposition leaders vigorously opposed the bill, saying Mr. Kenyatta’s government was creeping dangerously toward dictatorship. They pointed to other recent attempts by the government to restrict media freedom and human rights groups.
Mr. Kenyatta’s government says the country’s current counterterrorism strategy needs to be toughened. Somali militants have killed hundreds of civilians, damaging Kenya’s once-thriving safari business and leaving many people here jittery. In two attacks in recent weeks, gunmen separated Christians from Muslims and shot the Christians in the head.
Human rights groups said the counterterrorism bill was punitive and regressive, and activists were hoping Western ambassadors would send a strong message to Mr. Kenyatta’s government not to curtail rights.
On Wednesday, a group of Western envoys issued a cautious public statement that they welcomed “the effort by the government of Kenya to revise and update the country’s security legislation.” The statement added that it was important to respect human rights.