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Police officers beating defiant residents at Nakuru KFA roundabout while enforcing the night curfew due to coronavirus pandemic in on March 27, 2020. (Kipsang Joseph, Standard)

Nairobi
Chaos reigned from Nairobi to Mombasa and other parts of the country as police rained blows on hapless travellers stranded in towns

Kenya's first night of a nationwide curfew to curb the spread of coronavirus has exposed the high-handedness of the law enforcement agencies.

The 10-hour dusk to dawn curfew has brought out the worst of police officers eager to unleash their brutality on the public.

Chaos reigned from Nairobi to Mombasa and other parts of the country as police rained blows on hapless travellers, including women and children, stranded in towns. Some were yanked out of their vehicles and clobbered while others were forced to kneel or sleep on the road.

Motorists stuck in traffic along Mbagathi Way, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard].
Journalists too were not spared, although the order pronouncing the curfew had expressly exempted them, recognising their work as essential in combating the virus. 

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The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has said it will go to court tomorrow to seek a declaration that the curfew is unconstitutional even as the government failed to acknowledge the gravity of the actions of the police.

Widespread condemnation

The move by LSK came in the wake of widespread condemnation from human rights bodies, police oversight agencies and public anger.  

While reporting seven more cases of the coronavirus disease yesterday afternoon, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the State was determined to go forward with the enforcement measures it had instituted.

Police patrol the streets of Migori town on March 27, 2020. (Caleb Kingwara, Standard)
"Pulling back the enforcement measures will only make the things we do in the fight against the disease worse," he said, deferring comment over the conduct of the police to officials from the Interior ministry. 

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"I know there are issues being raised from the curfew that we started last night. However, I will not deal with matters of curfew operations."

As Nairobi got back to relative normalcy yesterday after the terror of the first night of the curfew, the public rebuked the law enforcement for the overzealous actions.

The Council of Governors termed the police actions as despicable.

“The police in total disregard of the social distancing rules hoarded people together like animals, exposing these Kenyans to possible infection and spread of the coronavirus in the event that there was anyone with the virus," CoG said in their statement.

Police officer beats motorists at Nakuru KFA roundabout while enforcing the night curfew. (Kipsang Joseph, Standard)
Yet, Police Spokesperson Charles Owino was unapologetic and fell short of saying the same actions would be expected tonight.

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Limits 

"All the incidents are regrettable and we take them seriously, but the most important thing is we need to put a balance and gauge what we really want because we have a responsibility," he said.

“Before we go to the police pointing fingers, let Kenyans be law abiding so that we don't put the policeman at risk of protecting us using force. They know the limits that they have but you see, the way I'm trained, when you become riotous, I have procedures. I'm even allowed to use my baton,"  he said.

Yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto tweeted that the police needed to be civil and act with restraint but still be firm.

“The corona pandemic is serious, very serious. The GoK curfew is meant to curtail movement so as to reduce spread of virus. We must all comply with the terms of curfew without exception. Law enforcers must act firmly but with restraint and civility,” the DP said.

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Siaya Senator James Orengo said the curfew does not mean Kenyans lose their rights.

"In any case, national security must be pursued in compliance with the rule of law and human rights. Police must not enforce curfew with might but love and fight Covid-19," he said.


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