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Residents in slums exposed to torture during and before night curfew hours

By Daniel Wesangula | February 6th 2021

Kidnapped man in a dark room.

On April 3, 2020, Albanas Mwema, a cobbler in Ukunda, Kwale County, was rushing home through deserted streets after a busy day. It was around 8pm and the first hour of a national curfew had just elapsed.

Before he got home though, witnesses alleged he was stopped by police officers on patrol who then beat him up for flouting the curfew laws. The next day, he was found dead at his doorstep, in what looked like an attempt to crawl home to safety.

When Mwema died, another family hundreds of kilometres away was mourning the shooting of Yassin Moyo, 13, by a police officer enforcing curfew laws in Nairobi barely 24 hours earlier.

Now, a report by a local rights body shows just how commonplace these killings and related torture have become in the lives of many Kenyans, particularly those living in informal settlements.

A report by the Legal Resources Foundation shows that at least eight out of 10 people living in informal settlements around the country have been tortured or brutalised in one way or another.

Local militias

Most notably, the report also finds that a majority of abuses and torture in informal settlements in Nairobi, Nakuru and Garissa are mostly perpetrated by local militias with the backing of area politicians and police officers. Densely populated settlements are cited as hotspots for police brutality, extra-judicial killings and ill-treatment.

The report also puts the main reasons for inhumane treatment as punishment for a crime committed at 22 per cent; torture to obtain a confession or reveal information (20%); for extremism and counter-terrorism reasons (15%); for political affiliation/views (8%); for illegal business operations, paid revenge/retaliation, and drunk and disorderly respectively (5%); for failure to pay rent (4%); and for no apparent reason (1%).

Data collected in the course of the compiling of the report on the Prevalence of Torture and Cruel Inhuman treatment of Punishment in the Informal Settlements also shows that unlike in the past, the main perpetrators of the violence are private militia.

“In most instances, the private militias are usually funded by a local politician and supported and protected by the local police who allow them to run havoc over the slum dwellers when enforcing local slum security, security fee collections, disciplining alleged crime offenders, and also used for revenge missions,” reads the report.

The report states that up to 60 per cent of the violence can be attributed to these militias, a statistic that is worrying, putting into consideration the heightened political activity around the country.

Indirectly involved

Although the police were indirectly involved in torture and other inhumane activities in these settlements, 34 per cent of these crimes can directly be attributed to the regular police, 17% to prison warders, 15% to the national army soldiers, 14% Administration Police; (11%) private security guards; (10%) Kenya Forest officers; (9%) special branch; (5%) inmates in police cells; (3%) traffic police and local county officers.

The most common injuries resulting in the torture were body bruises at 43 per cent.

Seventeen per cent of respondents recorded post-torture trauma, loss of eyes and miscarriages; 14% of the victims suffered broken arms and legs while others had chronic illnesses; and 3% reported physical disability as a result of the torture.

Although eight out of 10 people within slums experience some form of torture, most of them (61%) do not report these incidences to the police.

Some victims (28%) do not report because they believe that no action will be taken against the perpetrators; 26% indicated that the fear of perpetrators make them not to report; 18% indicated they do not trust the police or authorities; 14% do not report the crimes committed because of threats from perpetrators and 9% are unaware of how and where to report the crimes. Five per cent said they do not report for other personal reasons. The deaths of Mwema in Ukunda and Moyo in Nairobi were not isolated incidences.

Data from the Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa) revealed that 15 people had died due to police brutality and 31 incidents of serious injuries had been reported due to the use of excessive force by the police.

At the same time, a report by the Independent Medical Legal Unit covering Kakamega, Busia, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Nakuru, and Homa Bay counties recorded 25 cases of torture, ill-treatment, or extra-judicial executions. Out of the 25 cases, six were deaths and 19 were injuries from police beatings.

One of these recorded beatings was that of Asha Yusuf, a 58-year-old woman who was on her way home past the 7pm curfew time when, according to witnesses and a police statement recorded at Kiembeni Police Station in Mombasa, she was accosted by an officer on patrol who beat her unconscious. She lost two teeth during the incident.

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