, 31 March, 2020 / 6:45 AM
The brutality meted out on a section of Kenyans by police officers in their bid to enforce the dawn-to-dusk curfew put in place by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19 has caught the attention of Catholic Bishops who, while condemning the Friday, March 27 episodes, have called on security officers to act with a human face, respecting the dignity of persons.
In their March 28 statement, the Bishops express disbelief following “media reports of security officers’ brutality and harassment on members of the public in the enforcement of the Presidential directives” to maintain a 7 p.m. – 5 a.m. countrywide curfew effective March 27.
“We witnessed with shock, as vulnerable members of the society such as women, children and also some critical actors such as journalists and food suppliers being equally harassed by security officers,” the Bishops have stated in the letter signed by the Chairman of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Bishop John Oballa.
Police and commuters in Kenya’s Coastal town of Mombasa clashed Friday afternoon as residents rushed to board the ferry at Likoni to beat the curfew deadline. In Kisumu, the port city on Lake Victoria, the police teargassed Kenyans who did not adhere to the curfew on the first day of its enforcement, a scenario replicated in other Kenyan cities.
“The actions by law enforcement officers yesterday across the Country especially in Mombasa is unacceptable,” the Bishops decry in their March 28 statement and add, “The brutal acts only adds more injury to the people who are already vulnerable, this further exposes the vast majority to the risk of spreading and contracting the virus, including security forces.”
In the two-page statement, the Bishops have urged “all law enforcement officers to abide by the law in enforcing the curfew.”
They appreciate Kenyans for their “hardworking and resilient nature to ensure that their livelihoods and those of their families continue uninterrupted” and underscore the need to observe the curfew saying, “This is for our own good and for the good of all those we live with and even encounter in the course of our activities.”
While calling on County governments, security agencies, employers, and employees, to act responsibly in following the directives by the national government, the Bishops have, in their eight-point statement, emphasized “that Human dignity and sanctity of life is a value which must be upheld at all times.”
“Let us be our Brothers’ and Sisters’ keeper and stand in solidarity with humanity as we strive to contain the spread of Covid-19,” they have stated, adding, “Coronavirus spread will only be defeated through collaboration and adherence to the required measures. Let us avoid blame games and concentrate more on what can enable us return to our daily routine in the shortest time possible.”
The concerns of the Bishops in Kenya have been shared by twenty national human rights groups in the country under the auspices of the Police Reforms Working Group – Kenya (PRWG-K), who have also expressed concerns about the March 27 police actions.
What the police officers did “completely betrayed the specific responsibility bestowed upon them by the President: to facilitate orderly passage of commuters on the Likoni crossing,” the human rights groups decry in their collective statement posted on Twitter March 28.
“Hundreds (of commuters) were forced to cough, vomit, spit and touch their faces to wipe away tears and unblock their mouths and noses,” the human rights groups lament and add, “If the operation was supposed to protect people from spreading the virus, the operation achieved the exact opposite.”
Public order management must not be used to inflict pain, fuel panic and fear at this difficult time, the groups have noted in the statement seen by ACI Africa.
In light of the violations, the human rights organizations have in the two-page statement called on the National Police Service, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) to “investigate all reports of excessive use of force and unlawful policing with a view to holding perpetrators individually responsible.”
“We encourage members of the public to immediately report any intimidation, extortion or violence to these agencies,” the groups advise.
The human rights groups have also called on the Ministry of Interior to “indulge legal services as essential services and accredit Article 59 to monitor human rights, people’s safety and represent clients who are arrested over this period.”
“We shall intensify our monitoring of the curfew in the public interest,” the human rights groups have promised.
Kenya has at least 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa