Anti-terror steps irk Kenyans
27/07/2003 09:27 - (SA)
Mombasa, Kenya - Anti-American sentiment in this predominantly Muslim Kenyan city has grown as authorities here step up anti-terrorism surveillance, perceived by many as having been instigated by the United States.
"Policemen, armed to the teeth have broken into our homes and arrested our mothers and sisters, put them through mental torture and released them without preferring any charges," said Ali Amin, a young Mombasa resident.
Kenyan Muslim organisations have denounced a controversial draft anti-terrorism law, saying that, if enacted, the legislation will allow state security agencies to single them out for harassment.
The bill, which has yet to be debated in parliament, would give police the powers to detain terrorist suspsects for 36 hours without charge and search their property without warrant.
"You can not seek to guarantee freedom from terrorism while at the same time you infringe on the existing individual freedoms," said Patrick Omondi, a lawyer critical of the draft legislation.
Five men charged with with murder over last year's suicide bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa are Muslims from the city or surrounding areas.
Prior to the charging of the five, police had on various occasions detained and interrogated dozens of other people, later releasing them after finding nothing to link them to terrorism.
Muslim residents of Mombasa accuse police of singling out the community for harassment at the behest of US security agencies.
"So far, no one has been convicted in this country on charges related to terrorism and the Kenyan government is really trying hard to impress the American government," said Sheikh Ali Shee, a vocal critic of US policy.
"Consider that more than 50 people, mostly youth, have been arrested, interrogated and released without any specific charges touching on terrorism," said Shee.
"If the (anti-terrorism) bill is passed into law, what will happen to us (Muslims)?," he asked.
Fatma Swaleh Ali, a 72-year-old widow detained and questioned by police a few weeks ago said the police action had embarrassed her.
"They asked me all manner of questions, some of which were very embarrassing to my family and myself," she told AFP at her home in Mombasa.
"I was released after four days in custody after a legal battle between my lawyer and the State," she said.
As US President George W Bush arrived in Uganda earlier this month, a Muslim youth in Mombasa drove a knife into the heart of the American leader's effigy.
"Bush is coming to Africa? What for, he is a sadist, a capitalist and a warmonger," said Ahmed, 27, only giving his first name.
Bush did not stop in Kenya during an African tour that took him to Senegal, Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
Many Kenyans are vexed over the Bush decision to not visit Kenya, feeling they suffered the most when operatives of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network attacked the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing 213 people including 12 Americans.
The snub also reinforced an already chilly attitude stemming from Washington's vocal warnings that Kenya is a hub for extremist groups and accusations that Nairobi has failed to rectify the situation. - Sapa-AFP