Kenya court orders reopening of rights groups' bank accounts

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan court on Thursday lifted an order to freeze the bank accounts of two Muslim human rights organizations which had been blocked over alleged links to terrorism funding.

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In June, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and Haki Afrika were removed from a list of entities associated with the Somali Islamist group Al Shabaab, which has killed more than 400 people in Kenya over the last two years.

But the government failed to remove the clamp on the groups’ bank accounts, paralyzing their activities and prompting the lawsuit.

“The freezing of accounts was unconstitutional, illegal and in violation of the petitioners’ fundamental rights to freedom to own property,” Judge Anyara Emukule said in his ruling, given in the port city of Mombasa.

“The petitioners were denied their right to fair administrative process. I direct that freezing of the petitioners’ accounts in their respective banks be lifted forthwith.”

The two Mombasa-based groups have been critical of Kenya’s anti-terror policies, accusing the government of making arbitrary arrests and conducting extra-judicial killings. Police have denied the allegations.

Security experts and local activists have criticized Kenya for relying on heavy-handed tactics in the fight against militancy, including mass arrests which they say have alienated rather than engaged Muslims to help in intelligence gathering.

Hussein Khalid, Haki Africa’s executive director, said after the ruling that threats and frustration from government would not deter their resolve to champion human rights.

“Haki Africa is elated that the tumultuous and psychologically torturing period that the organization has gone through over the last almost eight months is now over. We shall remain steadfast in our advocacy work,” he said.

MUHURI executive director Hassan Abdule told Reuters: “We have always been committed to working with government in eradicating extremism, and we hope the government will from now on support us, and not frustrate our efforts.”

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Ruth Pitchford