December 18th 2017

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Emerging police brutality against government critics threatens 2017 polls

Although main concern about the police concern the election, peace campaigners have expressed anxiety at the ease with which officers open fire in informal neighbourhoods in Nairobi and poor regions of Kenya. Last night, suspected police officers shot to death a cobbler in Maringo Estate.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 08 Nov 2016 16:05 EAT

A picture by the Nation showing the protester being brutalised.

Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto is currently undergoing treatment at the Nairobi Hospital after police officers hit him and lobbed teargas to his face on Sunday. The governor had a swollen face and a red eye, according to the report by The Star journalist who saw him at the Wilson Airport on his arrival Nairobi yesterday.

The background to the vicious attack, according to the account provided by Governor Ruto’s spokesman Kiprotich Samoei, was that a number of youths had been arrested by the police at Silibwet Stadium where government supporters had organized a football match, on suspicion that they were supporters of the governor. The youths sent text messages to their boss, who went to the venue to find out what was happening. The governor arrived at the scene and engaged the concerned police officers (who were in a large contingent) in an argument, only for the officers to hit him and lob teargas on his face.

That an elected leader, governor no less, could be treated so cruelly signifies a new degree of police brutality, according to CORD leader Raila Odinga who visited Governor Ruto in hospital and demanded that the officers who attacked the governor be held accountable. The Council of Governors has also condemned the act, warning that the police were being used as “a weapon against dissenting voices”. The governor is a renowned critic of the Jubilee government, of which he was a founding member, and has recently formed a splinter party, the Chama Cha Mashinani.

Just hours before the attack on the governor, deputy president William Ruto watched by as police officers in Nyeri clobbered a young man who was protesting the appointment of Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua as the local chairman of the Jubilee Party. According to the Nation, a handful of youths positioned themselves at the entrance of Gititu Mixed Secondary School in Tetu Constituency where the deputy president was attending a fundraiser.

As Mr Ruto’s vehicle approached, they took out their placards and begun shouting ‘We do not recognise the governor or his brother. Jubilee in under attack.’ Mr Gachagua’s brother is also a politician who has declared his interest in the neighbouring Mathira parliamentary seat. Both are reputed to have close relations with the president. Notwithstanding the constitutional right to peaceful demonstration, police officers guarding the deputy president launched a full-throated attack on the protesters.

“Taken together, these two events on the same weekend portend an increasingly nefarious use of the police to intimidate voices of the opposition ahead of the next elections,” said a lawyer who has been involved in police reform efforts.

Police involvement in politics has usually resulted in the deaths of many Kenyans, hundreds during the 2007/08 post-election violence and dozens in each of the elections that preceded the one of 2007. On Friday, for instance, residents of Tana River County described the heinous crimes that were visited upon them by security agencies, principally the police, during the ethnic clashes there between 2012-2013.

While the police were deployed there to quell the clashes, the residents told a public inquiry held in Garsen that police and Kenya Wildlife Service officers brutalised the innocent for much of the period. Mr Yakub Hajj Tita, a resident of Kone village, told officials of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) that organized the inquiry that three KWS officers crushed his genitals after they found him in possession of alleged game meat at Drift near Garsen.

He said although the meat was from a cow he had slaughtered after it had broken its leg in the grazing field, but the officers insisted it was bushmeat. “The officers broke my arm and collar bone and took me to Garsen Police Station. They kicked my private parts and I can no longer meet my conjugal obligation since the 2009 incident,” Mr Tita told the commission, according to The Standard. The residents and the KNCHR appealed to the Government to release the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Tana River clashes that was chaired by Justice Grace Nzioka and implement its recommendations before next year's elections to as part of measures to prevent violence.

Even though main concerns about the police concern the election, peace campaigners have also expressed anxiety at the ease with which officers open fire in informal neighbourhoods in Nairobi and poor regions of Kenya. Just yesterday night, suspected police officers shot to death a cobbler, Edwin Mwaura, at Maringo Number 10 estate in Eastlands, allegedly after the mistook him for a gangster.

The Independent Police Oversight Authority has documented a number of cases in which police officers used excessive force to kill, maim or torment innocent Kenyans and, thankfully, some have had criminal cases preferred against them. But tough action is sorely needed to rein in errant officers. In the run-up to the elections, the media has been awash with images of chaotic scenes where officers used excessive force against well-defined government critics. Politically sensitive issues, notably the protests called by the opposition CORD coalition to demand the disbandment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, attracted disproportionate use of force.

The demonstrations left in their wake nearly ten people dead, felled by police bullets. Many more were brutalized, the most memorable case being that of Boniface Manono. In Kisumu, a police officer shot a protester, then went over to his body, oozing blood, only for the officer to ransack the dying man’s pockets, confiscating his documents while not even offering any chance of first aid. As the video showed, a civilian who offered to help the dying was totally ignored by the officers.

This abuse of power on behalf of the powerful was witnessed in January, when the police teargased pupils of Langata Road Primary School who were protesting the grabbing of their school playing ground by a “private developer”. The action drew condemnation from all Kenyans. The cabinet secretary for Interior Joseph Nkaissery apologized to the pupils.


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