Anti-gov’t protests: How social media became opposition’s stage to call out police brutality

Anti-gov’t protests: How social media became opposition’s stage to call out police brutality

A protester who found himself on the wrong side of the law during last week's anti-government protests. | PHOTO: JASON MWANGI

When Azimio La Umoja One Kenya coalition last week announced another round of anti-government protests from this week, a clash between the police and protesters loomed as top government leaders vowed they would not allow the protests to go on.

The security apparatus also echoed the president and other senior officials telling the opposition that they had not served them with formal communication on the same as required by law.

But Azimio maintained the protests will be happening every week from Wednesday through Friday, calling on Kenyans across the country to be citizen journalists and film state officers, including police and politicians who brutalize them during the demos.

The last round of demos, the Saba Saba protests on July 7, left more than nine people dead from police gunshots and this time, the opposition said it had a legal team determined to lodge lawsuits against anyone caught on camera.   

"We have instructed our lawyers to prepare and institute legal proceedings against police officers who have gone against their constitutional duty of protecting lives and properties of Kenyans during protests," Azimio co-principal Martha Karua told a press conference Monday.

Then on Wednesday, as the demonstrations unfolded in several parts of the country, so did reports of brutality as police engaged protesters in running battles.

By 11 am, police shot and injured two men in Migori town, before reports of police officers allegedly abducting opposition leader Raila Odinga’s bodyguard, Maurice Ogeta, resurfaced.

Azimio leaders went online to demand the release of Ogeta as well as Kilifi South MP Ken Chonga and Kilifi County Speaker Teddy Mwambire who were arrested during the protests in Mtwapa.

When police reportedly raided the house of Odinga’s spokesman Dennis Onyango, ransacked it and drove off with him, the coalition, through its Azimio TV Twitter account shared a video of the account, complete with details of the registration plates of the car he was allegedly whisked away in.

Opposition leaders have been quote-tweeting and resharing any updates from the protests as they stream in from mainstream media, social media users and their own accounts.

"This illegitimate regime is targeting innocent children; using live bullets. Totally unwarranted, unjustifiable and uncalled for. This happened in Mashimoni-Kibra today," tweeted Raila Odinga sharing a video of a boy with a bullet lodged in his leg.

In Nakuru, running battles with the police left four people with gunshot wounds. An incensed Karua tweeted condemning the incident as unacceptable, then tagged the National Police Service, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

It was still on Twitter where she would soon after issue a statement on behalf of the Azimio coalition, condemning the detention of Chonga, Mwambire, Onyango, Ogeta, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, MCASs Wilfred Odallo and Redson Ochongo as well as two budget officers at the Nairobi County Assembly namely; Erick Otieno and Anthony Otsula by police.

“Each officer will account individually for these unlawful acts. Our Lawyers have instructions to proceed with the necessary legal action,” said Karua. 

Later, images of a plainclothes police officer wielding a pistol started circulating, linking him to the shooting of a protester.

The coalition took to its social media accounts to appeal for information from Kenyans regarding the “killer” cop, as well as another group of officers whose member was caught on video seemingly shooting a civilian by the roadside.

“Azimio Alert: We ask Kenyans online for any and all details about this unit,” wrote the coalition on Twitter alongside the video of the officers who stood next to four Subaru Forester cars.

On Tuesday, the coalition lifted the lid on the identity of an alleged 'killer squad' dubbed Operation Support Unit (OSU) which they claimed was allegedly unleashed by the government to harm them and protesters.

They said OSU is responsible for the deaths reported from the Saba Saba demonstrations, adding that they fired from a number of Subaru vehicles and a Toyota Succeed.

Odinga later in the evening shared a horrifying video of a child purported to have been shot in the leg in Nairobi’s Kibera neighbourhood, writing “This illegitimate regime is targeting innocent children; using live bullets. Totally unwarranted, unjustifiable and uncalled for. This happened in Mashimoni-Kibra today.”

Wednesday’s protests saw five people shot dead; two in Nairobi, one in Makueni, one in Nakuru, one in Migori and another in Kisumu. Over 38 others were injured, 30 of whom sustained gunshot wounds.

'Inaccurate and misleading propaganda'

Following the shooting of civilians by police last week, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged local authorities to refrain from using deadly force when quelling the demonstrations and called for speedy investigations into the reported deaths and injuries.

But in response, Kenya told the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva that the protests are wrongly portrayed and misinformed.

"While the Permanent Mission shares the OHCHR's concern for human rights, it is obliged to contest the characterization of recent events in Kenya as 'peaceful protests'. Such a designation belies the widely and credibly documented ground reality," read the statement shared by Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing'oei said Sunday.

And on Wednesday, Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua labelled the UN statement as inaccurate and misleading propaganda designed to deny Kenyans their democratic freedom.

As the opposition vows to ensure all violent police officers are prosecuted, President Ruto has on his part praised the police officers for what he calls upholding peace, protecting the lives and property of Kenyans even as the protesters engage them in fierce running battles. 

"I want to congratulate our police for being bold and ensuring that there is peace and ensuring that action is taken on all offenders so that we ensure that there is peace in Kenya and people's property is protected," Ruto said Thursday.


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