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Kenyan Police Accused of Killings, Excessive Force While Enforcing COVID-19 Curfew

Kenyan police carrying batons and teargas patrol looking for people out after curfew in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, March 29, 2020.

Rights groups in Kenya say police are using excessive force while enforcing a nighttime curfew to contain the coronavirus. The groups say the excessive force has left at least a dozen people dead and hundreds more with life-threatening injuries.

Eighteen-year-old Ibrahim Onyango was coming home from Dandora dump site in Nairobi, where he worked collecting plastics for recycling. It was the first night that Kenya implemented a dusk-to-dawn curfew to contain the coronavirus.

His brother, Francis Otieno, said Ibrahim must have missed the announcement of the curfew, because he worked all day at the dump, without radio or television.

“He was going home, it was the first day of the curfew, Saturday [March] 29th. Together with his friend they met cops. It was around 7.30 p.m. and they asked him where he had come from and then started to beat him. In between the beatings, he got a chance to escape. That’s how he got to his house. When he got in, my sister Rita says he was bleeding, one of his ears was hanging; he had deep wounds on his head.”

Ibrahim died two days later, despite treatment at a Nairobi hospital.

Security officers arrests a man selling alcohol door to door during curfew hours in Kisumu, western Kenya, March 29, 2020.
Security officers arrests a man selling alcohol door to door during curfew hours in Kisumu, western Kenya, March 29, 2020.

Human Rights watch on Wednesday said that at least six people died in the first 10 days of the curfew.

Otsieno Namwaya was one of the lead researchers for the report.

“Most of those six are as a result of beatings from the police but beside the beatings and killings, I think the brutality of the police is much more widespread that the number of those who are dead. There are lots of people who are nursing injuries because of police beatings; there are a lot of people who have lost businesses because of police either demanding bribes or looting,” said Namwaya.

Wilfred Olal, a coordinator at the Social Justice Centers Working Group, a collective voice for grassroot activist groups in Kenya, said other deaths arising from police brutality during the curfew period may be going unreported.

“On the police killings, we have been using our monitors on the ground, and we have also been following the desktop survey, looking at what the media is reporting. So far, we have recorded 14 killings, and we even have the names,” said Olal.

Most of the deaths have taken place in Kenya’s urban slums, areas that have a long history of police killings.

Namwaya said the government needs to persuade people to respect the curfew, rather than impose it by force.

“This is a containment measure, to prevent an infectious disease from spreading and therefore what government needs is not force but engagement with the public and persuasion. That is what government has failed on and the thinking in government seems to be that if they cannot persuade, they should threaten and beat people to submission, which is totally wrong,” said Namwaya.

Kenyan police did not respond when asked for comment on allegations of excessive force and killings by officers.

Kenya has now more than 300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 14 deaths.