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Kenya Police castigated for using "excessive force" as curfew begins

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online
Police force ferry passengers to lie down after firing tear gas and detaining them in Mombasa, Kenya [The Associated Press]

NAIROBI, Kenya - Politicians and several rights groups accused Kenya Police of using "unnecessary and excessive" force during Friday's crackdown, as the East Africa nation enforced dusk to dawn curfew amid coronavirus pandemic.

Officers in different parts of the country whipped and lobbed teargas at innocent civilians who struggled to obey the 7 pm to 5 am curfew, with the limited public transport also adding pain to their predicaments.

In the coastal town of Mombasa, police engaged residents in running battles as they squeezed to fit into a crowded ferry in Likoni, attracting retribution from leaders across the political divide.

Videos of drivers being whipped across major towns made rounds on social media, once again depicting the traditional brutality attributed to the Kenya Police, which has struggled with confidence approvals among members of the public.

Some journalists, despite being protected in curfew proclamation, also caught themselves in brutal hands of the police, who roughed up people indiscriminately, their gender or age notwithstanding.

Ali Hassan Joho, the Mombasa governor whose area was the epicenter of the chaos, termed the officers' approach "uncalled for and inappropriate" on fellow human beings. Later, he managed to secure the extension of the curfew by one more hour.

While labeling the chaotic scenes "unacceptable", former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua blamed the government for "inadequate transport" and subsequently, warned against arbitrary arrests of citizens.

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the curfew early last week, arguing that it would help the nation to 'decisively" deal with Coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc across the world.

On Saturday, Kenya confirmed 38 positive COVID-19 cases, with one death also being reported. Besides the curfew, learning has been suspended jointly with international flights as part of the mitigation process, officials said.

But the government could particularly find itself in the wrong path following through intervention by over 20 rights groups including Amnesty International, which castigated the unprecedented police brutality.

"We continue to receive testimonies from victims, eyewitnesses and video footage showing police gleefully assaulting members of the public in other parts of the country," the rights groups said.

Kenya's interior ministry on Saturday replied to the criticism in a statement saying the curfew "is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm's way".

The guidelines issued to security forces on the curfew say that police can use "proportionate force where non-violent means are inadequate to achieve the objectives of the curfew"

Unlike Friday, calmness was witnessed on Saturday with police restraining themselves from instigating brutality on innocent civilians, the majority of them who live below $1 in a day within a country whose corruption index is one of the worst around the globe.

A source within Interior Ministry told Garowe Online that an emergency security meeting was chaired by the minister, Dr. Fred Matiang'i, who bear the brunt of social media criticism for the better part of Saturday.

Officers, the source said, were cautioned against "unnecessary force" against the civilians, with the minister reportedly saying, "I don't want the repeat of Friday, you must act within the law".

The Law Society of Kenya will go to court to challenge the curfew on the grounds that it is "unconstitutional" and has been abused by police, President Nelson Havi said in a statement.

The penalty for breaking a curfew is not corporal punishment as witnessed during Friday's enforcement of the orders, he added.

"It is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by actions of police than of those claimed to have contravened the curfew," Havi said.

By Sunday, over 650,000 people had contracted the deadly viruses worldwide. Of those, 135,000 have fully recovered while 25,000 have died, WHO said. Italy is the worst affected by recording 10,000 deaths while the US is the new epicenter, officials said.


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