NAIROBI, KENYA, DEC. 12 -- A prominent Kenyan lawyer, whose nine-month detention without trial triggered worldwide protests about human rights abuses in this East African country, was freed today by order of Kenya's president.

The release of Gibson Kamau Kuria, 40, an Oxford-trained lawyer who specialized in defending political prisoners here, came as President Daniel arap Moi delivered an angry speech denouncing human rights organizations that "interfere with our internal affairs."

"We don't share the running of Kenya with anybody," said Moi in a speech that rebuked Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.

"Amnesty International, I say to hell," Moi said.

Kenya's leader, who personally controls nearly all political and police power in this country, warned that if an Amnesty representative comes to Kenya again, "I will arrest him."

Despite the president's tough words, it appeared that pressure by international human rights organizations was instrumental in the release of Kuria and two other political detainees. They were ordered freed on Kenya's independence day, often the occasion for presidential pardons.

More than any major country in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya depends on foreign tourism as the mainstay of its economy. Tourism is the country's number-one industry, accounting for more than $300 million in hard-currency earnings annually.

Today's releases indicated that Moi's government, despite official distaste for foreign criticism, is sensitive to negative international press reports and aware that they could exact an economic price.

In an interview today at his Nairobi home, Kuria said he believed his release was forced by foreign press coverage of his detention and by the objections raised by such organizations Amnesty International and the American Bar Association.

"There is as yet not sufficient public opinion inside Kenya to protect the rights of an individual," said Kuria, who until 10 o'clock this morning had been held in a Nairobi jail without any indication that he was to be set free. "The pressure must come from international organizations."

Kuria was picked up at his Nairobi law office in February on the day after he had filed suit against the Kenyan government on behalf of three political prisoners. The suit alleged that police had tortured his clients to try to coerce confessions of seditious activities.

Before he filed the documents, Kuria had told The Washington Post that he expected to be detained by the government. But, he said, "I have decided I am not going to compromise on the principle {of the rule of law} even if it means being detained."

In a report in July, Amnesty International said that Kuria "was arrested and detained solely on account of his professional legal activities on behalf of political prisoners . . . His detention has severely weakened the independence and effectiveness of the legal profession in Kenya."

The report also said that more than 75 political opponents of the Kenyan government had been imprisoned in the previous year after "unfair trials." It said that these Kenyans had been "tortured into making false confessions," although "many appear to have done no more than criticize the way the country is run."

At home today with his wife and two young children, Kuria said that his treatment while in detention had been "atrocious."

He said he had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest and was denied any contact with his lawyers for five months. He also said he twice was threatened with death.

Kuria said his interrogators said they would shoot him unless he admitted involvement in a subversive organization called Mwakenya. The clandestine group has been the target of the Moi government's political crackdown.

"On March 1, I was given an ultimatum by my interrogators," said Kuria. "They said I must admit the allegation that I was Mwakenya and I must promise to stop defending unpopular people. If I did this, they said I would be allowed to go back to my {law} practice. They said they were prepared for me, my wife and my children to go see his excellency the president and ask for a pardon.

"When I said I had not broken any law and would admit to nothing, they told me I was going to be 'destroyed,' " Kuria said. He said, however, that the threats passed without any violence and that he was not physically abused while in jail.

After police picked him up, Kuria said he was interrogated for four days. During that time, he said, he was blindfolded and forced to do "exercises while naked. They were commenting adversely as to my private organs throughout my interrogation."

Kuria said today that, upon his release from jail, Kenyan officials set no conditions on what he could say to the press about his detention. Kuria said he would have remained in jail rather than accept any limitations on his freedom of speech or his right to practice law.

"I made it clear to the interrogating officers that once I am released, I am going to practice law in accordance with my professional standards," Kuria said. He said he would continue to defend Kenyans accused of subversion.

Kuria, who specialized in human rights law during his studies at Oxford, was held incommunicado for two weeks in February and March before the government formally detained him under the Preservation of Public Security Act. The law allows for the indefinite imprisonment without trial of anyone the government deems to be a security risk.

At the time of his official detention, Kuria was charged with being a member of Mwakenya. According to government documents, additional grounds for his detention included his "uttering words and conducting himself in total disrespect of the head of state."

In the past year, international charges of human rights abuses in Kenya have met with indignant denials and counter-accusations from Moi and many senior government officials.

They repeatedly have said that Kenya is far more committed to guarantees of human rights as embodied in its constitution than are other African countries.

As part of the government's angry reaction to outside criticism, it has tightened rules on the accreditation of foreign journalists. Nearly every week there are high-level warnings directed at correspondents, telling them not to abuse Kenya's hospitality.

In his speech today Moi said, "We hide nothing. What we don't want is for anybody to come and interfere with out internal affairs . . . "

Since there are other African countries with far worse human rights records, Moi asked, "Why bother Kenya?"