At least six people died from police brutality and violence during the first 10 days of Kenya’s dusk-to-dawn curfew to contain the spread of Covid-19, a human rights watchdog has revealed.
A study by Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that police used excessive force, and without any justification, shot and beat up people at markets or those returning home from work, even before the daily start of the curfew.
This led to the death of at least six people and left many others injured.
Additionally, security officers tasked to enforce the curfew also broken into homes and shops, extorted money from residents or looted food at various towns and markets across the country.
Therefore, HRW wants the government to urgently investigate instances in which police shot, beat up, or abused people, killing or seriously injuring them.
“It is shocking that people are losing their lives and livelihoods while supposedly being protected from infection,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Senior Africa Researcher at HRW.
“Police brutality isn’t just unlawful; it is also counterproductive in fighting the spread of the coronavirus,” Namwaya added.
The research was carried between March 29 and April 14 and involved phone interviews with 26 witnesses, relatives and victims of abuses related to the curfew in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, Busia, Kakamega, Mandera, and Homa Bay counties.
However, the group also lamented Kenya’s long-held history of police use of excessive force during law enforcement operations, either in informal settlements or in response to demonstrations, often resulting in unnecessary deaths.
For instance, in February, HRW said it documented eight cases of police killings, six of them during peaceful protests.
One was in Majengo during a protest against the police killing of a 24-year-old man and another in Kasarani against the poor condition of roads in Nairobi’s low-income neighborhoods of Majengo, Kasarani, and Mathare.
“There was apparently no justification for these killings,” HRW held.
Although many killings by the police have been well documented by both state institutions and rights organizations, the security officers have rarely been held to account.
In addition, those responsible for investigations appear to focus only on one or two cases that have elicited public outrage and ignore the rest.
HRW has urged the Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) to ensure that all current and past killings are thoroughly investigated and that all those implicated are held to account in line with the constitution.
“Kenyan authorities should ensure that police do not use excessive force and that the curfew is carried out legally to benefit Kenyans,” Namwaya said, adding that authorities should follow through on promises to investigate killings and abuses and hold those responsible to account.
However, according to the report released on Wednesday, April 22, police appear to have enforced the curfew in a chaotic and violent manner from the start on March 27.
In downtown Nairobi, it says, police arrested people on the streets, whipping, kicking and herding them together, increasing the risks of spreading the virus.
In the Embakasi area of eastern Nairobi, the security officers forced a group of people walking home from work to kneel, then whipped and kicked them, witnesses told HRW.
In Mombasa, on March 27, more than two hours before curfew took effect, police teargassed crowds lining up to board a ferry back home from work, beating them up with batons and gun butts, kicking, slapping, and forcing them to lie on top of each other.
“Video clips on local television stations and social media showed that the police were not wearing masks and other protective gear, which authorities were encouraging everyone to wear and have since made mandatory,” the report reads in part.
HRW, which is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, says, it also heard similar accounts from many parts of the country as police violently enforced the curfew shooting, beating, and extorting money from people.
On March 31, at around midnight in the Kiamaiko neighborhood, in Nairobi’s Eastlands area, the police shot live ammunition at Yassin Hussein Moyo, 13, hitting him in the stomach and killing him, witnesses said.
His father, Hussein Moyo, claimed that his son was standing on the third-floor balcony at midnight alongside his siblings when the bullet struck him.
Although Ipoa has started investigations on Moyo’s killing, HRW doubts its ability to nab Moyo's killers.
According to HRW, similar promises in the past have not resulted in prosecution.
In 2017, HRW alleges that the oversight authority promised to investigate the killing in Kisumu County of Samantha Pendo, a six-month-old baby, and that of nine-year-old Stephanie Moraa in Nairobi County.
“But no officer has been charged with either killing or in any of the more than 100 cases of killings Human Rights Watch documented in that period,” HRW noted.
In Busia and Kakamega counties, the police have been indicted for beating and shooting people in many cases outside the hours, resulting in death and serious injury.
For instance, local residents told HRW in Kakamega County at around midday on April 1, police enforcing a ban on open-air markets arrived in trucks at the market in Mumias and began beating up, kicking and shooting at traders.
As a result, Idris Mukolwe, a 45-year-old tomato vendor, died from being hit with a teargas canister police threw at him.
“We ran when the police arrived, but they threw teargas at us. One teargas canister hit Mukolwe and exploded in his face. He started suffocating as police laughed at him, and when we went to his aid, police again threw teargas at us, forcing us to flee,” one trader said.
At the same market on March 30, police are said to have shot a 24-year-old trader, Grace Muhati, with live ammunition.
Fellow traders took her to a county referral hospital where she is recuperating after doctors removed two bullets from her body, a family member said.
HRW was able to confirm a second man was beaten to death by police in Kakamega, a third in Homa Bay, western Kenya, and two more in Kwale county in the Coast region.