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Kenya turning into a police state, rights defenders warn

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Human rights defenders are warning that Kenya is slowly turning into a police state, calling for urgent action while accusing officers of acting outside the realm of law as they deal with anti-government protesters.

In a joint statement, more than 30 rights organisations accuse the Kenyan police of killing 28 protesters since the start of the demonstrations in March, which also saw other protesters sustain serious injuries. 

The organisations also accuse the law enforcers of conducting arbitrary arrests and detaining opposition supporters and their leaders unlawfully. “The police are being weaponised and politicised by the regime,” they said.

Impunity

Francis Auma, from the Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) tells The Africa Report that the police acted with impunity, and continue to use excessive force targeting opposition supporters.

“Police in Kenya are being misused by the current regime. Someday they will have to pay for their actions,” he says.

Wycliffe Ochieng, a resident of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, tells The Africa Report that he had to rush his two children to the hospital after the police threw tear gas canisters inside his house through an open window.

“Why did the police cause harm to my innocent children? They are just heartless,” he says.

Opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja, which called for protests over increased taxes, reported arrests and abduction of their leaders, saying they were detained incommunicado for days.

Top politicians arrested

Opposition Member of Parliament Babu Owino was among the top politicians arrested and detained for three days, and later charged for organising illegal anti-government protests.

He accused the police of denying him food for all three days. He also said he was blindfolded before being thrown in the trunk of a car. “If fighting for Kenyans is what will cost my life, so be it,” he said in an interview with The Standard after being released by the court on bond.

Maurice Ogeta, the private bodyguard of opposition leader Raila Odinga,  was also reported abducted by police officers in plain clothes. He was released three days later, in the middle of the night in Ruai on the outskirts of Nairobi.

“He was released and left in the middle of the road. He is happy to be alive but still distraught and in shock,” said opposition party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) communication director Philip Etale.

Meanwhile, the opposition has suspended anti-government nationwide protests that were scheduled for Wednesday, July 26 to hold solidarity parades and vigil for victims of police brutality in various locations across the country.

The opposition says from its statistics, more than 50 people have died at the hands of the police, with hundreds injured and admitted to hospitals with serious injuries.

Raila denounced the “unprecedented police brutality” during protests he organised on Tuesday.

Ruto’s support

Despite these concerns, President William Ruto has applauded the police, saying they acted professionally while dealing with protesters. 

After assuming power last year, he promised to end the police’s involvement in extrajudicial killings, which for long have been notoriously common in Kenya.

“I congratulate the police for standing firm, for ensuring peace prevails,” he told a gathering in Isiolo, North of Kenya.

However, human rights activists have condemned the president’s comments, accusing him of ordering police to brutalise peaceful protesters. “Ruto’s remarks are regrettable. Praising the police under such circumstances is sad,” Auma says.

To address these concerns, human rights defenders are now calling on the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) to investigate cases of arbitrary arrests, mistreatment and all atrocities committed by the police.

The activists are also proposing a national dialogue process that involves all stakeholders to discuss concerns over high taxation that has led to the high cost of living and by extension the protests.

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