SJCWG Member Wambui, whose husband was murdered by the police (photo by Manu Valcarce)

With a full lockdown around the corner, the Kenyan government have enforced a 7pm - 5am curfew. The curfew has already proven more of a hazard to public health than the virus itself, with “excessive force” deployed to return citizens to their homes. The most recent report puts the Coronavirus death toll at ten and twelve killed by the police.

Confusion surrounding the extent of police power in this context has led to arbitrary arrests and extortion. Court sessions have been suspended and local police stations granted increased powers. Our partners in the field have witnessed police taking bribes to release people from jail. They have called for police to adhere to the rule of law and publish guidelines for arrest and handling cases at police stations.

Under the auspices of the Police Reforms Working Group, twenty national human rights bodies including our partners have publicly condemned the excessive use of force by the Kenyan Police Services on the 26th of March in Mombasa. Forces threw teargas, frog marched, and beat up members of the public trying to get home in time for the curfew, which was due to begin two hours later. Civil society have condemned the assault of journalist Peter Wainaina during the operation, reminding the government that journalists are one of the essential services exempted from the curfew order.

The Police Reforms Working Group have also called on the Ministry of the Interior to include legal services in those exempted from the curfew. We have demanded that the Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police Service, the Independent Policing Oversight authority and the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights investigate all reports of excessive use of force and unlawful policing.

Human rights defenders are holding the government to account when it oversteps its powers. They must be protected at all costs.