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Nobody should normalise police brutality on university students

This week a video clip of police officers assaulting a Jommo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) student emerged online. The student by the name Allan Omondi who was seen being beaten by four police officers ruthlessly is then seen being escorted by the same police officers to the police station. It is believed that Allan Omondi was part of the students who had staged a demonstration expressing their dissatisfaction on the state of security around the university. In the past few months, there have been allegations of insecurities around the campus including numerous stabbing of students and rape cases. It is an oxymoron that students who were demonstrating due to the failure of the security apparatus to protect them were again met with violence by the same agency mandated to protect them.

Since time in memorial there has been a well-choreographed use of violence against university students whenever they stage a demonstration. A few years ago, University of Nairobi student demonstrations meant closure of businesses in the CBD because there was a likelihood of violence erupting. There have also been cases where police officers have been filmed beating up students who might not even have participated in the demonstrations. According to Article 19 Eastern Africa, in the month of September alone, 38 comrades from Masinde Muliro University, Technical University of Mombasa and Multimedia University were either met with violence by the police or faced unwarranted arrest. The case of the late Meru University student leader Evans Njoroge “Kidero” epitomized the level of force that police can use on the young people of this country. JKUAT’s case is therefore not isolated.

This case however raises some hard questions? Have we normalised use of force against student demonstrations? Is it a systemic de facto style to use force against the youth? Is it a question of inferiority complex? Or is a means to silence those who are brave enough to exercise their constitutional rights to protest? Do we need to capacity build university students on what a peaceful demonstration entails? Other than use of force, do the police have alternative ways of dealing with any mishaps during a demonstration?

The Kenyan society has for a long time used protest as a way to show dissatisfaction with government (in)actions, to advocate for or against an idea and to speak against other ills in the society. Protest were used during the fight for multiparty democracy, to voice against poor governance during the KANU error as well in the efforts to conserve the environment. In most of these protests university students either led or actively participated. It is natural for the students to be in the forefront of any struggle as they are concerned informed and are concerned about a better tomorrow.

Freedom of expression is provided for by Article 37 of the Constitution, ‘every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities'. This right can only be limited by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable, justifiable in an open and democratic society. These limitations clear, present or imminent danger of a breach of peace or public order, national’s security, public order, public safety or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. But even when the above happens, there are ways in which the police should intervene; use of excessive force is not one of them.

Allan Omondi’s case and others where university students have been brutalized by the police shows that there is an indiscriminate use of violence on protestors based on the fact that they are students. Protests by students seems to have been criminalised. The public has also linked student protests to indiscipline rather than a constitutional means to express themselves. In another video from the same JKUAT protest, a student is pushed into raw sewage by members of the public. The public perception to student protest has empowered police use of force.

It might not be safe for a normal Kenyan to demonstrate but it seems that is even more unsafe for university students to demonstrate. It is time that the police and Kenyans at large stop treating use of force against students as a disciplinary action but a human rights violation. In an open and democratic society everyone ought to be treated with dignity either young or old, student or not.

This article was first publishe here

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human rights