Azimio demos: Data, names of dead put police on the spot

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga accompanied by Kalonzo Musyoka at the burial of Brian Malika Muendo who was shot by the Police in Emali town in Makueni County during the peaceful protest on August 15, 2023. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Charles Ngere, 27, was shot on the right side of his buttock. The bullet raptured his pelvic bone, went through the diaphragm and his sixth rib before it crashed his vertebrae bone

His only sin was to go out to look for food when protests were underway at Mlolongo, Machakos county.

Eucabeth Mukei was also killed on the same day and same place as Ngere. She was shot in the chest and doctors were unable to save her life. Hers was a gunshot that fractured her 10th and 11th ribs, which caused severe bleeding leading to death.

Miles away, in Migori county, Stephen Okinyi was also shot in the left buttock. The bullet cut the 29-year-old’s main blood vessel, he bled to death.

Ngere, Mukei and Okinyi are the faces of the cost of Kenya’s election. Their deaths left permanent pain and tears to their siblings, friends and relatives.

President William Ruto and his then arch-rival Raila Odinga have buried the hatchet. In fact, the country has moved on but no one is yet to be brought to book for the killings and maiming between March and July last year when the opposition and its supporters were in the streets to protest over the high cost of living and electoral reforms.

Initially, Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome had accused Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition of hiring dead bodies and parading them.

“We have seen in the recent past and it is very unfortunate senior members of the society going to mortuaries, hiring bodies, calling the media telling them that the people were killed by police officers. How low can some of our leaders sink?” paused Koome.

However, multiple data from the court, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHRC) and Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) give us, for the first time, a picture of how persons were killed or maimed, how many and which police stations were on the spot.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition through its lawyer Paul Mwangi sued Koome, the National Police Service Commission (NPSC), and the Attorney General.

The Raila-led party also roped in the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), Amnesty International, IMLU and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) as interested parties.

In its case, it zeroed into 75 persons who it stated were killed in March, April, May, June and July 2023.

 Among those it listed are 73 men and two women. The women are Faith Wairimu and Eunice Muthakye.

The police opposed the case. The replies exclusively seen by The Standard were by Commissioner of Police Reuben Muteti.

Azimio Leaders at Mama Lucy and Kenya Hospitals where they went to visit those who were injured by the police during the Protest. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

He said that despite the Constitution guaranteeing right to picket and assemble, the police have the authority to disperse protestors if it is deemed that they are not peaceful. Muli also said that police officers can also use force in riots as a last resort.

According to Muli, Azimio never gave evidence that they notified the police that they were on the streets to protest.

He also argued that Koome should not have been sued in person and the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) as only IPOA can compensate victims of police misconduct.

Muli pointed an accusing finger to IPOA, which he said had not replied to NPSC on the number of cases of police involvement in deaths and maiming.

The commissioner also denied that there was proof that all those who were listed in the case were killed by the police. “I, therefore, believe that the prayers are not merited and further I pray that the court do decline all the prayers sought herein as the petitioner has not made a case to warrant the orders sought,” replied Muteti,

In its case, Azimio singled out Koome and NPSC for the protestors who were killed and maimed.

“The issue of police brutality in Kenya is an old one and has become synonymous with the police in the country. I survived an assassination attempt executed by the members of the National Police Service on March 29, 2023, when my vehicle was targeted with about 10 rounds of live ammunition as I participated in the demonstration,” said Raila.

“The petitioner has also identified hundreds of serious injuries mainly from gunshots and other lethal means and is continuing to collect details nationwide on the same. All these deaths and injuries have been caused and maliciously inflicted by members of NPS,” said the former PM. Azimio placed the blame on Koome’s doorstep. The party claimed the killing and maiming was both systematic and systemic, and was out of clear instructions from senior police officers.

IPOA on its end filed a reply through its Deputy Director of Investigations and Forensic Services Emmanuel Lagat.

Lagat told the court that IPOA is investigating 64 cases of deaths during the Azimio protests. In addition, it stated that there were at least 174 serious injury cases alleged to have been as a result of police action countrywide.

 The agency also said that out of the list provided by Azimio, there were some 34 names that matched its own investigation data.

IPOA argued that it could neither defend the police nor support the opposition coalition’s claim on the deaths and injuries until it cleared the investigations.

On the flip side, IPOA’s argument on who ought to be responsible roped in Koome in terms of responsibility. It argued that command responsibility applies to all in the NPS.

“I am advised by the first interested party’s advocates on record which advice I verily believe to be true, that pursuant to the provisions of section six and seven (1) (F) of the International Crimes Act, 2008, the doctrine of command responsibility is also applicable in Kenya as a mode of criminal liability for international crimes for superiors including police superiors,” said Lagat.

 IPOA supported Azimio’s argument that Chief Justice Martha Koome should set up an expanded Bench to hear if police bosses should be held to account for their junior's actions.

IPOA’s data indicates that at least 306 cases against the police were under investigation relating to the four months that Azimio brigade was in the streets in 2023.

There were 56 cases of assault and two of enforced disappearance. Police officers were also accused of stealing in three cases.

Abduction, arson, malicious damage, teargassing MPs, attempted murder, inaction, destruction of property and arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention had one case each. There were also two cases of police misconduct.

In the meantime, IMLU which is also a party in the case has a set of its data. In its report, IMLU had 67 cases of persons said to have been killed by police. Out of the list, it indicated that 51 persons were killed in five days in July, meaning 10 persons were recorded to have been killed each day by the police.

A comparison between IMLU’s report and that of Azimio indicated similar names.

 We randomly compared the two lists. We started with unique names on both lists such as Hillary, Edward, Derrick and Eunice. Both IMLU and Azimio had Edward Wanjala, 33, as among those killed in July. At the same time, both lists also had Hillary Lwangu. He was 20 years and was killed in Machakos.

Derrick Adongo was 21 when he was killed in Kisumu. He too was in Azimio and IMLU’s lists. Eunice Mutheu, 22, is also in the two documents by the opposition and the human rights lobby.

IMLU’s report also claimed that there were those who died in the hands of police through other means other than bullets. Fredrick Omogo, 55, was said to have died after inhaling teargas. An autopsy done at Migori County Teaching and Referral Hospital indicated that he was overwhelmed by teargas chemicals. Omogo is also in Azimio list.

In addition, IMLU stated that in July alone, 24 gunshot wound victims were attended to in hospitals. Some, the lobby said, still have bullets still lodged in their bodies.

In one case, the lobby claimed that a 14-year-old girl code named D.O. was shot at close range by police in Nyalenda slum, Kisumu. She lost her speech and hearing.

“Authorities not only failed to protect, respect, and fulfill the constitutional right to protest, but they also actively violated it with habitual regularity,” IMLU’s report read in part.

The lobby said that its data indicated a systemic problem in 16 counties. It singled out 39 police stations which it claimed had the most violations. They were in the areas that it stated mainly supported Azimio. Kisumu, Nairobi, Migori had the largest numbers with 136, 70 and 23 cases respectively.

The stations include Nyalenda (73), Nyamasaria (20), Kondele (16), Kasagam (9). In Nairobi, Kibra (16), Nairobi Central (12), Huruma (8), Embakasi (6). Others are Mlolongo (10), Migori (16), Kaptembwa (10).

On its end, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) indicated that it had recorded 24 deaths in the hands of police during Azimio protests. The commission said that it verified five deaths in Nairobi, 14 in Kisumu, three in Migori, and two in Makueni.  

“In Migori, Kisumu, Makueni, and Nairobi, 14 of the victims had bullet wounds while the rest sustained fatal injuries from the protest. While two (2) in Kisumu allegedly sustained fatal injuries as a result of being repeatedly struck with batons by several police officers,” the report by KNCHR read in part.