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Kenya Rights Groups Criticise Abductions During Protest Crackdown

KENYAN police have arrested over 270 individuals, alleging they posed as protesters and engaged in criminal activities during anti-government rallies. Human rights organisations have condemned this as ‘excessive repression.’

After two weeks of protests against a new tax law, dozens of Kenya activists have been abducted, rights groups say, while some now demand President William Ruto‘s resignation.

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‘Security forces across the country singled out suspects found engaging in criminal activities in the guise of protesting and took them to custody,’ the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said in a statement posted on social media this week.

Though Ruto withdrew the tax increases in a victory for the movement, the heavy-handed reaction to the protests – campaign groups have documented hundreds of arrests and at least 39 deaths – has raised fears of rights backsliding.

‘The president and I gave a categorical promise to the people of Kenya that the issue was abductions and extrajudicial killings will never happen again,’ Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said in a televised address. ‘Sadly, this is back.’

Abuses

The police did not respond to journalists’ request for comment on the abductions, nor did Noordin Haji, the director of Kenya’s intelligence services.

In an interview on Sunday, Ruto had denied police involvement in disappearances but broadly defended the actions of the security forces.

Irungu Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, told Reuters however that there were clear cases of abuse.

‘People who are considered to be protesters or organisers or even just simply voices of dissent are being plucked from their homes or even as they go to church with their families and locked up,’ he said.

Amnesty, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Law Society of Kenya all put the number of abductions at more than 30, even if they said most were later released.

Faith Odhiambo, the president of Law Society of Kenya, said the interrogations abduction victims have undergone during their ordeals have focused on how the protest movement is financed, how it is organised, and the identity of its leaders.

‘It’s a very clear indication that the government is behind this,’ she said.

Kenyan activist Bill Eugene Omollo was walking home after dark in his Nairobi neighbourhood on June 20 when he noticed two men eyeing him near a parked white pick-up truck without number plates.

The 28-year-old had been part of the youth-led protests disrupting Kenya since last month and had been released by police only hours earlier after being arrested at one of the demonstrations. He shouted for help. ‘But people were also running. So they took me,’ he told Reuters.

After his aggressors bundled him into their vehicle, Omollo said he was blindfolded and driven to an unknown location where he was brought to a room and ordered to strip to his underwear.

He was forced to sit on the concrete floor, which his captors flooded with freezing water. Then the interrogation and threats to his family began.

‘They asked me “Who sent you? Who is funding you?”. I told them no one is funding us,’ said Omollo, who does not know who abducted him and has not reported the incident to the police.

‘I thought I would be a dead man.’

Missing people

Amnesty also confirmed some instances of torture during the illegal detentions.

Odhiambo of the Law Society of Kenya added that if the goal of the abductions was to intimidate the victims, then it appeared to be succeeding.

‘They don’t want to be seen on social media or any forums,’ she said. ‘Fear has been instilled.’

Some testified of their case, like Nairobi resident Mutia Paul, who is still looking for his 17-year-old brother, Tony, last seen heading for a protest on 25 June.

Paul has searched at police stations and hospitals, scoured the morgues for the body… He now believes his brother is being detained.

‘My heart is full of sorrow, I have done all I can,’ he said.

Activists have vowed to keep up pressure on Ruto and lawmakers.

Worried they would be followed and abducted again, some left Nairobi.

‘I miss my home, I miss my brothers, I miss my sisters and I miss my community,’ one said. ‘I feel like a refugee in my own country.’

 (with Reuters)

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