April 14, 2015 / 1:59 PM / 5 years ago

Activists criticize Kenya for putting Muslim groups on Shabaab supporters' list

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Rights groups criticized Kenya’s government on Tuesday for including two prominent Muslim groups on a list of possible supporters of al Shabaab, the Somali Islamists behind this month’s Garissa university attack that killed 148 people.

A university student reacts during a demonstration condemning the gunmen attack at Garissa University campus in the Kenyan coastal port city of Mombasa April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

Haki Africa and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), which are both headquartered in Mombasa, were included on a list of 86 groups and individuals suspected of being associated with al Shabaab that Kenya released days after the April 2 attack.

Kenya has been criticized by security experts and local activists for relying on heavy-handed police tactics in the fight against militancy, including the use of mass arrests, saying these have alienated rather than engaged Muslims to help in intelligence gathering.

“Counter-terrorism can only succeed if both civil society and the government work together to counter violent extremism,” 15 civil society groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, said in a joint statement.

“Continuous antagonism of civil society will only aggravate the situation,” it said, adding they were “extremely concerned” about the inclusion of the two groups.

Haki Africa, which has mediated talks between radical youths and the government, said it had planned to issue a report next week about dozens of extra-judicial killings that it says were carried out by the authorities, a charge the government denies.

Haki’s executive director Hussein Khalid said its assets had been frozen, making it impossible to print the report.

“I think most of our work has rubbed the government the wrong way and this is their way of trying to silence us,” said Khalid, who was in Nairobi to meet government officials.

The government formally notified the groups last week that they were suspected of links to al Shabaab, although it said the list had been generated prior to the Garissa attack. A spokesman for President Uhuru Kenyatta did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

In the latest effort to fight homegrown radicals, the Interior Ministry on Tuesday urged youths who had been drawn to al Shabaab but now rejected the ideology to report to the authorities. It said they could secure a government amnesty, but those who spurned the 10-day offer would face the law.

The civil society groups criticized Kenya’s demand to the United Nations that it close within three months the Dadaab refugee camp, where it says Islamist militants are hiding out.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR urged Kenya on Tuesday to reconsider the demand.

Al Shabaab attacked a building housing two government ministries in Mogadishu on Tuesday, setting off two big blasts before gunmen stormed inside. At least 10 people died in the assault.

Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic and Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Edmund Blair and Raissa Kasolowsky

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