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HRW: police brutality thrives under Kenya coronavirus curfew

April 22, 2020

At least six people have been killed by police throughout the East African country during curfew time, Human Rights Watch says. One apparent victim was a 13-year-old boy shot in the stomach while standing on a balcony.

Kenyan police patrol looking for people out on the streets after curfew in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi,
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Inganga

At least six people have been killed during night time curfews imposed by the Kenyan government to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the New York-based rights watchdog said that Kenyan police, "without apparent justification, shot and beat people at markets or returning home from work, even before the daily start of the curfew." It also said police have broken into homes and extorted money from residents and looted food from stores in several locations across Kenya. 

Read more: Africa could slide into severe hunger crises as lockdowns continue

The police killings reportedly took place during the first 10 days of the country's dusk-to-dawn curfew, which was imposed on March 27. The curfew prohibits people from moving outside between 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and 5 a.m.

"It is shocking that people are losing their lives and livelihoods while supposedly being protected from infection," said HRW's senior Africa researcher Otsieno Namwaya. "Police brutality isn't just unlawful; it is also counterproductive in fighting the spread of the virus."

Abuse and impunity

The victims include Idris Mukolwe, 45, a tomato vendor struck by a tear gas canister thrown to disperse people at an open-air market in Kakamega County and Eric Ng'ethe, 23, an accountant beaten to death at a pub in Kwale county.

Thirteen-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo from Nairobi's Eastlands area was also among the victims. According to witnesses, police shot live ammunition at the child, hitting him in the stomach and killing him. The boy's father, Hussein Moyo, told Kenyan media that his son was standing on the third-floor balcony at midnight on March 31 alongside his siblings when police fired at him.

Read more: Man shot dead for flouting coronavirus rules

Following criticisms from various rights groups over police brutality in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta apologized on March 30 about police use of force, but did not instruct authorities to end the violence.

According to the DPA news agency, when asked about the HRW investigation, National Police Service spokesman Charles Owino told dpa that there were  "a few cases where some few police officers misbehaved," but argued that these were isolated incidents. Police brutality is not a policy of the Kenyan government, he said.

"We took action against them — some were suspended, some were indicted, some were even taken to court," Owino said.

HRW called on Kenyan authorities to urgently investigate the cases of brutality and hold police accountable.

mvb/rc (AFP, dpa)

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