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An opposition supporter gestures in front of policemen during clashes in Kawangware slum in Nairobi, Kenya October 30, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities should condemn recent violence, rein in any police abuses, and investigate scores of killings, most of them by police, during the prolonged electoral period, Human Rights Watch said today.

A series of protests and clashes between police and opposition supporters began on November 17, 2017, at the Nairobi airport while supporters of the opposition leader Raila Odinga escorted him to the town center. Protests and clashes continued in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western Kenya following the Supreme Court decision on November 20 affirming President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election.

“Political violence has surged with people getting killed every day,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yet again, we are getting worrying reports that police are using excessive force, beating and killing protesters and even those not participating in protests.”

Police have used excessive force to contain protests since August, in a prolonged electoral period. In October, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented at least 67 killings, most by gunshot, during protests by opposition supporters after the electoral commission declared Kenyatta the winner of the August 8 election. The Supreme Court later nullified the results and Kenya held a fresh election on October 26. That election was also marred by violence, with police using excessive force against opposition supporters who protested to demand electoral reforms and changes in the electoral commission.

The latest round of violence started after the authorities deployed police in and around Nairobi’s main airport to prevent Odinga supporters from welcoming him back from an overseas trip. Police used teargas and water cannons to break up large crowds cheering him, media reports said. Unidentified gunmen shot at Odinga’s car. Local and international media reported that, in the process, the police either shot or beat to death dozens of people.

A photojournalist told Human Rights Watch that he witnessed four apparently unarmed supporters in Odinga’s convoy shot by police along Landhies road and Haile Selassie Avenue, as the convoy entered central Nairobi.

Nairobi City Mortuary received at least 15 bodies, according to a mortuary official who spoke to the media on November 18, most of them with gunshot injuries. Scores of the wounded were taken to hospitals. The police said that the crowds had beaten five people to death on November 17 for looting before the police arrived and promised to investigate the deaths. The police spokesman, George Kinoti, said police used only tear gas and not live bullets.

According to reports by local media and local human rights activists, more than 10 people are believed to have been killed between November 18 and November 20. International media have reported at least 24 people killed by police since November 17. Human rights activists and a community mobilizer told Human Rights Watch that, since November 17, they had witnessed police killing protesters in Nairobi’s Dandora Phase Four, Kibera, Mathare, and Kawangware neighborhoods, as well as in Kisumu and Migori in western Kenya.

On November 19, opposition supporters engaged police in running battles in many parts of Nairobi as they protested the killing of another five people by unidentified attackers. On the morning of November 19, the bodies of four men and one woman, believed to be opposition supporters, were found along the Nairobi-Thika highway near their homes in Riverside neighborhood, Ruaraka area, residents and local leaders said. They were apparently killed either by gunshots or machetes.

Neighbors who witnessed one of the attacks told Human Rights Watch they believed the attackers were members of mungiki, a pro-government armed group responsible for many killings in the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The Nairobi police commander, Japheth Koome, dismissed the allegations but promised to investigate. Such allegations are extremely sensitive. In August, the authorities threatened to arrest journalists and others who reported mungiki attacks. The authorities have failed to investigate similar attacks or to hold anyone responsible for the killings by police since the August 8 election.

The court’s decision affirming Kenyatta’s victory sparked further protests in Nairobi and western Kenya, as well as celebrations in some neighborhoods of Nairobi, central Kenya, and parts of the Rift Valley. Odinga, who boycotted the repeat elections, said he considers Kenyatta an illegitimate president despite the court decision affirming his victory. This position and the planned inauguration of Kenyatta next week could trigger further protests.

With the political tensions still high, it is crucial for Kenyan authorities to ensure that any use of force by the police is lawful, and urgently investigate all killings, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Kenyatta and other government officials should condemn ongoing killings and ensure that there are thorough and independent investigations into such killings and the role of any armed groups in the violence,” Namwaya said. “Kenya has to put an end to the culture of election-related violence, unlawful killings by police, and impunity for abusive officers.”

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