Kenya post-election deaths raise questions over police brutality


Six-month-old Samantha Pendo was sleeping with her mother when police in the city of Kisumu in western Kenya forced the wooden door open a crack, fired in teargas and battered the choking baby and her parents with batons, her parents said.

Now Samantha is in a coma.

The couple say their experience flies in the face of government statements that only looters or thugs were killed or injured in violence following last week’s disputed election.

On Friday, the election board announced President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term by 1.4 million votes. But veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, 72, insists those results are fake and that he won last week’s presidential election.

Odinga hasn’t called for protests yet, but has said he will announce his strategy on Tuesday. Many Kenyans fear that demonstrations could provoke a repeat of the bloodshed that followed 2007’s disputed vote and claimed around 1,200 lives.

Since the results were announced, Odinga supporters have mounted sporadic protests in Kisumu and the Nairobi slums that are his strongholds. Odinga accuses security forces of deliberately beating and killing residents, accusations the police deny.
“Our response was lawful and proportionate,” Police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet told Reuters. “We are investigating (the Pendo case). No sane police officer would hit a child.”

For Samantha’s parents, those words ring hollow.
“We are not thugs, we are not thieves. We are just a family,” said her father Joseph Abanja. His hands and arms are swollen and scraped from the beating he says he received after throwing open the door of his one-room home gasping for air.

Men in police uniforms pulled him outside while others dashed in to hit Samantha and his wife Lenzer, lying in the family bed. After the baby was clubbed, his wife began screaming, and the men panicked, said Abanja.
“They started moving and said, ‘let’s go,'” he said in an interview at the hospital on Sunday. “One told me to do first aid and I told him I don’t know first aid.”

Police ignored his wife’s pleads for a lift to a hospital. It was four hours until the family reached help, a delay that doctors at Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu said probably exacerbated her injuries.

Neighbours told Reuters that police were sweeping their neighbourhood, Nyalenda, for protesters.

“I heard the screams next door and on my street, and then the banging,” said shopkeeper Maurice Abanja.

Four other Nyalenda residents said police had forced their way into their homes and taken cash or phones.

Mary Awuor, 36, said a police officer beat her and her teenage daughter with sticks early on Saturday. Her right thigh was still swollen.
“The officer took my phone and 3,000 shillings ($30),” she said.

At least 177 injured people have been treated by the Red Cross countrywide since the elections, mainly with injuries from assault with blunt objects, the aid group said Monday. It’s not always police who are responsible; some victims said they were attacked by robbers.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said on Saturday that 24 deaths had been reported nationwide since Tuesday’s polls, although the government put the death toll at 10.

Reuters reporters have seen police repeatedly fire tear gas and guns to disperse crowds, but most shots seemed to be blank or fired in the air.

In the Nairobi slum of Mathare on Sunday, Odinga visited the home of an 8-year-old girl hit by a stray bullet on her third floor balcony when witnesses said police were firing to disperse protesters.
“I saw another child running towards me and tell me, my child has been shot,” her mother Moraa Nyarangi told Reuters. “She was on the ground bleeding seriously. I couldn’t do anything.”

Boinnet said he was investigating.
“If indeed it was a police officer then the law of the land will apply. As of now, we have strong reasons to believe it was thug with a firearm,” he said.

In the same slum, police dragged 18-old-year student Silus Lebo out from under a bed and beat him, his mother Christine Lebo said.
“There were about four policemen on either boy, each beating them up with batons,” she said. Two witnesses confirmed her account.

When the beating stopped, her son could not stand or speak. He died on Sunday.

On Monday, Kenyatta commended police but called for restraint.
“We thank them for the good work that they are doing but we continue to encourage them to use restraint as they exercise their duties,” he told reporters.