Kenyans brace brutality as police enforce curfew

Monday March 30 2020
MAIPIC

Police subject commuters to inhumane treatment at Likoni crossing in Mombasa, as they enforced nationwide curfew on March 27, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NATION TEAM

The video begins with a group of police officers interrogating a woman, who has stepped out of her car on a Nairobi street.

It is a few minutes after the beginning of a countrywide curfew and police officers have been deployed to maintain law and order and ensure only those who have been exempted are out and about.

The woman presents papers to the police, ostensibly to indicate that she meets the exemption criteria.

The officers glance at the documents then tell her to get back into the car and drive away.

But as she turns to get into the vehicle, one of them rains blows on her. Confused, she turns but more blows send her scampering into her car.

Her experience sums up what happened to thousands of Kenyans on Friday night as police officers descended on those who, for one reason or the other, could not make it home in time.

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The indiscriminate violence on men, women and children was shocking in its brutality and complete disregard for liberties.

It caught in its wake hapless residents, including journalists and medics who were in a list of pre-approved essential staff excepted from the 7pm-5am curfew.

PASSENGER LIMIT

Videos obtained by the Sunday Nation show hordes of police officers beating guards on night duty, drivers on deserted roads, desperate ferry users agitated by delays at Likoni crossing in Mombasa and journalists on duty.

In Nairobi, major exit routes like Thika, Mombasa, Jogoo, Lang'ata and Ngong roads were clogged with traffic immediately a press conference by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe ended at 4pm.

Thousands joined long queues at bus stations that extended beyond the 7pm cut-off time as matatus – observing new guidelines – were ferrying at about 50 per cent capacity.

As they braved the delays and queues, police officers on the other end were arming themselves with clubs and whips – generally preparing themselves for violence.

Videos circulated online showing officers toying with clubs and masks and acting excited about what the night would present to them. And when night fell, all hell broke loose.

In Nairobi, police mounted checkpoints on major roads – at Roasters on Thika Road, Sunton in Kasarani, Githogoro (Northern Bypass), Kenya Wildlife Service (Lang’ata), Nyayo Stadium (Mombasa Road), Kiamumbi (Kamiti) and at the University of Nairobi on Waiyaki Way.

At the roadblocks, police mostly asked motorists where they were headed and left them to go on their way.

NO ARRESTS

Inside the estates, however, it was a different story. Those unlucky were beaten.

There were very few or no arrests despite the police having earlier said they would apprehend and present in court whoever was found in the streets.

Tracking coronavirus

Reacting to the condemnation of the violence, Police Spokesman Charles Owino said action would be taken against officers found to have broken the law.

He asked Kenyans to observe the curfew. At least 16 people received medical aid from the Kenya Red Cross and hospitals, according to civil society groups.

Those who flouted the curfew were not arrested, but beaten and made to run home.

On the island side of Likoni Channel in Mombasa, police rounded up hundreds of pedestrians and forced them to lie on soggy ground.

As they lay there crying and pleading for mercy, security officers and National Youth Service personnel beat them up and threw tear-gas canisters at them.

Ms Mishi Rajab, 45, was among those caught up in the violence. She limped home late into the night with her sickly two-year-old grandchild.

She had taken the child to hospital in the morning and was returning home when the violence erupted.

DRIVER ASSAULTED

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho accused the officers of barbarity and advised companies to allow employees to leave their offices as early as 3pm.

In Nakuru, police whipped long-distance truck drivers and their turn boys for travelling past the curfew hours.

Police mounted a roadblock at the junction of the Nakuru-Eldoret highway and Kabarak Road, opposite Westside Mall.

And it was here that James, who was transporting bitumen from Mombasa, met his tormentors.

“Unaitwa nani? (What’s your name?)” the police asked him. He responded with the single name James.

“Are you a Kenyan?” He nodded in affirmation. “Do you know your president.” James said he did.

“What did the president say?” the police officer asked, and then answered the question himself. “He said people should not be out after 7pm.”

The statement echoing the announcement of the curfew by President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier in the week marked the end of the interrogation and the beginning of a beating that James and his loader will never forget.

A guard at a petrol station on Kenyatta Avenue was beaten for filming officers assaulting people on the street.

COLD NIGHT

Police officers across the country appeared to be operating on orders not to arrest anyone, but to assault them.

A National Police Service directive earlier in the week had cautioned police chiefs against detaining people.

In Bomet and Kericho counties, screams and waling rent the air as police officers with whips and wooden planks unleashed terror on residents heading home after 7pm.

Mr Anthony Tonui, a businessman in Kericho Town, said he was beaten up by the police as he closed his shop just minutes to 7pm. His house is 100 metres from his shop.

Tens of drivers parked their trucks by the roadside in Mulot, Chepseon, Litein, Sotik, Londiani and Kapsoit trading centres.

They locked themselves in the vehicles and spent the night wherever the curfew found them.

In Kisumu, Homa Bay and Kakamega, police used tear gas to disperse defiant youths, who engaged them in cat-and-mouse games.

In Kondele, police officers used whips and tear gas to disperse boda-bodas who were still out after 7pm.

Leaders and the civil society condemned the violence and called for restraint on the part of the police.

LAWSUIT

Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) chairperson Anne Makori condemned “the brutality and unlawful and excessive use of force” on the residents of Mombasa.

“This is an insult to the hard-fought gains of reforming the police from a force to a service,” the agency said.

The Nation Media Group condemned the brutality and urged police to exercise caution.

In a statement, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs head Clifford Machoka said: “The level of violence meted out on Kenyans trying to get back home before 7pm, in some cases because of circumstances beyond their control, was unreasonable, against the law and defeated the purpose of uniting the country against the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Concerns were also raised by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), the Council of Governors, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and Fida-Kenya.

“The penalty for contravening a curfew is a fine of not more than Sh1,000 or imprisonment for not more than three months, or both. Using force amounts to aggravated assault,” LSK President Nelson Havi said.

Mr Havi added that LSK would go to court on Monday to challenge the legality of the curfew.

He said police have no right or justification to substitute the penalty with corporal punishment.

“Kenyans are requested to document incidents of aggravated assault by the police and forward the same to the LSK,” he said. We will take action against the said officers or their superiors.”

PROPER PLANNING

The Communist Party of Kenya (CPK) asked security bosses to rethink their approach to the curfew.

The party said the “militarisation” of a looming health crisis will only lead to insecurity of unimaginable proportions.

“Coronavirus spread will only be defeated through collaboration and not violation. The virus has caused enough fear among Kenyans. There is no need to impose more fear though police violence,” CPK vice chairman Booker Ngesa told the Sunday Nation.

Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi accused the government of failing to plan properly for the curfew.

“Curfews are not just imposed and implemented, unless you are dealing with a hostile population in a sudden and violently disruptive situation,” he said.

“Curfews must be methodically planned and contingent considerations thought through and mitigated. In this case, there is clear failure on the part of the government. As citizens, we call upon the government to get back to the drawing board.”

“While we understand the extraordinary circumstances that have called for this extraordinary intervention, it is not possible to appreciate the brutality that has been part of the implementation of the curfew. The police have gone about it in a manner that is inconsiderate and inhumane.”

BILL OF RIGHTS

Council of Governors Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said the violence is unacceptable, while KNCHR said the Bill of Rights, as spelt out in the Constitution, has not been suspended by the pandemic.

Despite the condemnation, some political leaders and lawyers said it is necessary for the government to use “any means necessary” to control the spread of the virus.

“There are reasons Covid-19 is getting under control in China and running out of control in Italy,” Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said.

“The Chinese are not joking about the curfew. You obey laid down guidelines or face the music. In Italy, the liberal and reactionary media place civil liberties over safety.”

Mr Donald Kipkorir, a lawyer, tweeted that when a curfew is declared, ordinary laws do not apply, and that those who argue otherwise “want to excite the poor”.

The police brutality happened just a few hours after Deputy Inspector-General of Police Edward Mbugua issued orders to regional commanders to “use proportionate force where non-violent means are inadequate to achieve the objectives of the curfew”.

The officers were directed to ensure that locals remain indoors and to stop and detain any individual found outdoors within the curfew hours, except for those providing essential services.

Mr Mbugua also directed police officers to enter and search any premises and detain individuals found violating the curfew, to assist in identification, removal and isolation of suspected infected persons and to grant police bonds to detained persons where appropriate.

Report by Vincent Achuka, Wanjohi Githae, Mohamed Ahmed, Nyambega Gisesa, Brian Wachira, Samuel Baya and Philip Muyanga