Kenyan police killed three people and injured five others Thursday in an incident that began with a motorbike taxi driver not wearing a mask, fuelling concerns that officers are excessively enforcing coronavirus restrictions.
The clashes in the western town of Lessos broke out after police shot dead a 40-year-old cobbler who had protested against officers arresting the driver of a motorbike taxi.
Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported that the police were demanding a bribe of 50 Kenyan shillings (48 cents) from the driver, when the man intervened.
Charles Wahong'o, a spokesman for Kenya's police force, said the victim, named as Lazarus Kirop, was shot dead after a crowd of motorbike taxi drivers protested the arrest of their colleague for not wearing a face mask, and attempted to snatch an officer’s rifle.
He said the officers then retreated to the station, but the protesters followed them, damaging sections of the station and burning down the home of the station’s commanding officer. In response to the melee, police fatally shot two other people.
Kenya’s police inspector general Hillary Mutyambai said he had ordered the arrest of the officers involved in the shooting and referred the case to the country's Independent Policing Oversight Authority: “A thorough investigation will be carried out and action will be taken. They must face the law."
The incident has fueled concerns about Kenyan police using excessive force to enforce coronavirus lockdown restrictions since a nighttime curfew was imposed at the end of March.
Otsieno Namwaya, senior Kenya researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that by his count there had been 25 deaths by police enforcing the lockdown before the latest deaths. "There are serious, serious concerns about the way they’ve been enforcing the lockdown,” he told VICE News. "A lot of these deaths are completely unnecessary. Police didn’t need to use force. In some cases, police simply opened fire on people when there was no threat.”
He attributed the problem to a longstanding police culture of using violence against civilians and a lack of accountability by the force. This was especially the case when enforcing decrees from the top levels of government, he said.
Earlier this week, police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndiwa was charged with the murder of a 13-year-old boy, Yassin Moyo, who was shot on the balcony of his home in March while police were enforcing the lockdown. Ndiwa has denied the charge.
The killing caused widespread public outrage, triggering protests across the country. So far, 137 have died from coronavirus in Kenya.
This article was published by Vice.