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Kenya’s coronavirus curfew begins with wave of police crackdowns
NAIROBI — Kenya’s dusk-to-dawn curfew was intended to encourage social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Instead, security forces unleashed beatings and tear gas, injuring dozens of people, potentially exposing many more to the virus and damaging public trust in the government’s strategy to contain the outbreak.
In cities across Kenya, policemen and other uniformed officers used their boots and batons in a brutal crackdown — with some incidents caught on video — seemingly carried out to drive home the seriousness of the curfew measure that took effect Friday.
Kenya’s interior ministry on Saturday replied to the criticism in a statement saying the curfew “is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm’s way”.
The guidelines issued to security forces on the curfew say that police can use “proportionate force where non-violent means are inadequate to achieve the objectives of the curfew”.
The government has not said how many people have been arrested. Because courts are also affected by the virus prevention measures, all but serious cases will now be dealt with at police stations, the government has said.
That means anyone detained for violating curfew faces time in crowded cells.
Kenya has so far confirmed 38 cases of the new coronavirus, which causes a highly infectious respiratory disease called COVID-19. The country has taken a series of measures to stop its spread, including shutting borders and banning most air travel.
The Law Society of Kenya will go to court to challenge the curfew on the grounds that it is “unconstitutional” and has been abused by police, President Nelson Havi said in a statement.
The penalty for breaking a curfew is not corporal punishment, he added.
“It is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by actions of police than of those claimed to have contravened the curfew,” Havi said.