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Police beat up and strip Standard journalist in Siaya

Thursday March 23 2017
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Bondo-based Standard journalist Isaiah Gwengi (left) and activist Rodgers Ochieng’ who were Wednesday evening, March 22, 2017 arrested by QRT police officers based in the town. They said they were tortured for several hours before being booked at the Usenge Police Post before being released on Thursday morning. PHOTO | COURTESY

By NELCON ODHIAMBO
By RUSHDIE OUDIA

Tension is high in Usenge town, Siaya County, after police arrested and locked up Bondo-based Standard Media Group journalist Isaiah Gwengi on Wednesday evening.

Officers from the Quick Response Team seized Mr Gwengi while in the company of activist Rodgers Ochieng’ and other locals.

The scribe was targeted for investigating the use of excessive force by the officers who have been on rampage since Tuesday evening.

The Nation established that Mr Gwengi’s arrest was related to a story he was following after residents accused the officers of harassment.

The two were reportedly beaten up by police and Mr Gwengi suffered head, neck, hand and waist injuries.

“They took off my shoes and said they were stinking that they cannot be kept in the police vehicle,” said Mr Gwengi.

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STRIPPED

The officers also took his phone by force and removed his two SIM cards.

He added: “I was stripped naked and the officers demanded to check if I was circumcised.”

Trouble started when two traders were arrested on Tuesday and, since then, the town has been under curfew from 6pm.

The residents were threatening to hold a demonstration to condemn police brutality and to demand the release of the traders.

Mr Gwengi, who was in the process of interviewing the human rights activist, was then arrested alongside Mr Ochieng and bundled into a police van.

BLEEDING

The two were taken to Got Agulu Hospital after the area OCS refused to book them because they were bleeding profusely.

They were attended to at the hospital before being taken back to the cells at Usenge Police Station where they spent the night.

Standard Group Nyanza Bureau Chief John Oywa on Thursday said the journalist had been writing stories on police brutality, extortion and illegal charcoal business in the area, a matter that has put him on the war path with the authorities for a while now.

He expressed shock at the torture meted on his staff and demanded explanation from the police headquarters on the unfortunate incident.

HARASSMENT

“I thought the police had transformed from a force to a service. This clearly shows that nothing has changed. The Inspector-General of Police, Mr Joseph Boinnet, must urgently investigate the activities of these officers,” said Mr Oywa.

Usenge residents have been calling for the removal of the Quick Response Team police unit, whom they have accused of harassment.

“We are not happy with the presence of the QRT in the area. They have resorted to beating up everybody on sight and arresting innocent boda boda riders operating in Usenge and its environs,” said a resident who sought anonymity.

In February, the journalist and activist reported to the Bondo DCIO that their lives were in danger.

TORTURE

Efforts to get comments from the police the arrests bore no fruit as the officers and Bondo police boss Paul Kiarie did not answer calls or reply to text messages.

On Tuesday, Administration Police officers, under the command of Inspector Benard Ongoro, injured one person and confiscated several motorbikes after the officers allegedly started torturing the youth for unknown reasons.

The alleged harassment sparked protests among members of the public.

The locals shouted at the officers, who later escaped from the wrath of the mob which threatened to attack them.

REVENGE

The officers are believed to be on a revenge mission by arresting the youths, including the journalist and activists, for being at the forefront advocating for their removal.

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda has condemned the incident and has vowed to ensure that the journalist and the activist are released on free police bond.

Dr Ochanda said the actions by police would only raise tension and animosity between the residents and the police.

FREE BOND

He asked the police QRT unit to stop harassing locals, insisting that he would call for their removal from the town if similar incidents are reported to his office.

“I am headed to the police station to secure their release on free bond and I hope no case will be filed against them as they did not commit any offence. It is sad that the reason for their arrest is very flimsy,” said Dr Ochanda.

The two were released Thursday morning on a free bond.

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