At least six people have died in Kenya from police violence during the enforcement of a dusk-to-dawn curfew implemented to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The measure, which came to power on March 27, prohibits people from moving outside between 7pm (16:00 GMT) and 5am (02:00 GMT).
The six deaths investigated by HRW happened during its first 10 days, the US-based group said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is shocking that people are losing their lives and livelihoods while supposedly being protected from infection,” said Otsieno Namwaya, HRW’s senior Africa researcher.
The victims include a 13-year-old boy shot in the stomach while standing on a balcony, a tomato vendor hit by a tear gas canister thrown to disperse people at an open-air market and an accountant beaten to death in a pub, according to HRW.
It said police officers have also extorted money from residents and looted food.
The group called on Kenyan authorities to “urgently investigate” cases of police brutality and hold those responsible to account.
“Police brutality isn’t just unlawful; it is also counterproductive in fighting the spread of the virus,” Namwaya said.
National Police Service spokesman Charles Owino told dpa news agency that there were “a few cases where some few police officers misbehaved”, but said these were isolated incidents.
Police brutality is not a policy of the Kenyan government, he added.
“We took action against them – some were suspended, some were indicted, some were even taken to court,” Owino said.
Kenya’s police force is often accused by rights groups of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings, especially in poor neighbourhoods.
In January, HRW said at least eight young men had been shot in three low-income neighbourhoods since Christmas, and a 2019 report detailed the killings of 21 young men and boys by police “apparently with no justification”.
“Although many killings by the police have been well documented by both state institutions and rights organizations, the security officers have rarely been held to account, including by the police oversight authority,” said the HRW statement on Wednesday.
On April 1, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta apologised for “some excesses” by police in the enforcement of the curfew.
HRW criticised him for not instructing police to end the abuses.
By Wednesday, Kenya had reported 303 cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, 74 recoveries and 14 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.