Last week, a video clip showing people resembling uniformed armed police officers assaulting a Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) student emerged online.
The victim, identified as Allan Odhiambo, is seen being beaten by four men, who then lead him away, reportedly to a police station.
He is said to have been among students who were protesting alleged insecurity on and around the main campus when the police were called in.
Reported cases of insecurity at the campus in Juja, Kiambu County, over the past few months include numerous stabbings and rape of students.
It is an oxymoron that the students were protesting alleged failure of the security apparatus to protect them, but the same agency obligated to do so meted out violence on them.
There has always been well-choreographed use of violence by the police against protesting university students.
A few years ago, protests by University of Nairobi students meant business in the CBD coming to a standstill.
Officers have also been filmed beating up students who might not have participated in a protest.
Article 19 Eastern Africa says that in September alone, the police either assaulted or subjected at least 38 students from Masinde Muliro University, Technical University of Mombasa and Multimedia University to unwarranted arrests.
The killing of Meru University student leader Evans Njoroge “Kidero” epitomised the level of force that police can use on young people.
The JKUAT case, however, elicits hard questions: have we normalised use of force against student demonstrators?
Is it a systemic de facto style to use force against young people? Is it a question of inferiority complex or a means to silence those who are brave enough to exercise their constitutional right to picket?
Do we need to teach university students how to hold a peaceful demo? Other than use of force, what other methods of dealing with demos do the police have?
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Kenyans have always protested to show their dissatisfaction with government (in)action, advocate or oppose a proposal or speak up against social ills.
Protests were used during the fight for multiparty democracy as well as to root for environmental conservation.
University students either led or actively participated in most of these protests. That’s natural as they are informed and concerned about tomorrow.
Freedom of expression is provided for in Article 37 of the Constitution.
This right can only be limited by law, and even then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.
The limitations include clear, present or imminent danger of a breach of the peace or public order, national security or public safety or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
But even with the above, there are ways in which the police should intervene: use of excessive force is not one of them. Students protests seems to have been criminalised.
It is time the police and Kenyans at large stopped treating use of force against students as a disciplinary action but a human rights violation. In an open and democratic society, everybody ought to be treated with dignity.
John Muthuri, legal aid manager, African Prisons Project (APP). [email protected]