The documentary that has the Kenyan government riled up

A documentary by Al Jazeera on Kenya’s death squads exposed the country’s extrajudicial killings and has the Qatar-based news organization under scrutiny in Kenya. The Kenyan government launched an investigation after the program premiered (watch above). It also issued public condemnations of the documentary.

“The documentary was deliberately planned and aired at a time when Kenya is seeking support to strengthen its war against terror through legislative reforms,” said the Kenyan Interior Ministry in a series of tweets on December 9. “The tone and subjective nature of the documentary was deliberately skewed to support and empathize with terrorists and their sympathizers without any consideration for the hundreds of innocent Kenyans who have died in the hands of terrorists.”

The Al Jazeera documentary features interviews with Kenya counterterrorism officials. They claimed that extrajudicial killings, largely targeting Muslims, were sanctioned by the government from the highest levels. It comes a year after a group of terrorists attacked the popular Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people. Instability in neighboring Somalia and the continued presence of al-Shabaab near the border have posed security threats to Kenya.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken a stronger stance on national security in the wake of the attacks. The Al Jazeera documentary is the latest in a series of reports and accusations against Kenyan security forces for committing extrajudicial killings. In August, Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report showing how the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit were responsible for such killings.

“Kenyan counterterrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies and the United Nations,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at the time. “This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism – it simply undermines the rule of law.”

Officials continue to deny wrongdoing. That alone is concerning to rights activists, but proposed laws pose potential threats to Kenyans, say Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In a report released Sunday, the two groups urged lawmakers to reject the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill sent out by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Administration late last week.

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The rights watchdogs say the amendments will impose harsher penalties on people convicted of crimes and increase restrictions on the rights of people accused of committing crimes. It gives more power to curtail due process and for the nation’s security apparatus to initiate monitoring without warrants. Other restrictions covered by the amendments include limitations on free speech, freedom of assembly and media rights.

“The cumulative effect of the amendments could return Kenya to the police state of the 1980s and 90s, and nullify recent progress on protecting human rights,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, regional director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International, in a statement. “Parliament needs to reject these amendments, stand behind Kenya’s constitution, and pass measures aimed at making police and the military more effective and accountable.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.