NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan police on Tuesday fired teargas and arrested activists gathering for a march against perceived government injustice that has been given extra impetus this year by rights groups’ allegations of police brutality during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Activists said protesters from several areas had planned to march from their homes to the centre of the capital Nairobi, but many were dispersed or arrested before reaching there. Samuel Kiriro said six of his colleagues from rights group the Ghetto Foundation in the Mathare slum had been detained.
For those who made it into the city centre, police fired more teargas and made further arrests, a Reuters witness said.
Activists rally each year on July 7, marking the date in 1990 when opponents of then-president Daniel Arap Moi launched a bid to open up multiparty politics. The protest is called “Saba Saba” – “seven seven” in Swahili – because of the date.
This year, protesters have been galvanised by mounting accusations of police brutality during the coronavirus lockdown.
“The police have been killing a lot of people … During this pandemic, it has gotten worse,” said Michael Njau, an activist at Kiamaiko Justice Centre.
Police said they broke up the protests as social gatherings are currently restricted under lockdown-related measures and demonstrators had not notified authorities of their plans.
Philip Ndolo, Nairobi regional police commander, told Reuters more than 50 activists had been arrested but that they would be released on cash bail.
Rights group Amnesty International said Kenyan police had killed at least 100 people in 2020, with 21 related to COVID-19 lockdown infractions, such as curfew or mask violations.
Over the weekend, protesters in western Kenya set fire to a police station after an officer allegedly killed a hawker for selling fake hand sanitisers. The officer was taken into police custody, a police report seen by Reuters said.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Omar Mohammed and Mark Heinrich)