Urgent call on Kenyan government to guarantee safety of protesters and internet connectivity

Police arrested an anti-finance bill, 2024, protester along City Hall Way, Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

June 28, 2024

INCLO members condemn the Kenyan government’s intimidation and repression of protestors, legal defenders and activists who mobilized around the rejection of a new tax bill in Nairobi and other cities. We urge Kenyan authorities to comply with their human rights obligations. They must ensure the safety of civilians by immediately stopping the use of live ammunition and the abuse of less lethal weapons. They must also protect internet connectivity and ensure the people of Kenya can stay connected in this time of crisis.

On 18th of June 2024, protestors started gathering in Nairobi and other cities around calls to #RejectFinanceBill2024 and #OccupyParliament. The widespread protests were catalyzed by a proposed bill that would impact the socio-economic well-being of people in Kenya, especially those in already vulnerable situations. 

Illegal and disproportionate use of force

Since then, the government has illegally brought in military forces to suppress demonstrations, bypassing the Constitution and putting protesters in further danger by involving forces untrained for interventions with civilians. The disproportionate and unnecessary response to these protests has resulted in the arbitrary arrest of over 335 individuals, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR). The gravity of the situation is heightened by the throttling and shutdown of internet communications, which in addition to obstructing the organization of demonstrations, is preventing information from circulating about killed, wounded, abducted and arrested protesters. 

Among those arrested were members of human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Haki Afrika and Mageuzi Platform and paramedics attending wounded protesters. Equally concerning was the use of teargas by police against legal counsellors who were at the Central Police Station to provide support to those detained. Civil organizations have also called out the extrajudicial detentions of several youth leaders.

Rather than facilitate the right to protect, since the start of protests, law enforcement quickly set out to intimidate peaceful demonstrators, causing hundreds of injuries with their indiscriminate use of teargas, batons and water cannons. So far, they are responsible for 23 recorded deaths of protesters.

Obstruction of information

We also call on the Kenyan Government to address the internet connectivity issues immediately. Internet shutdowns and internet throttling are blunt instruments used by governments to exert control over the free flow of information during politically significant moments. They go hand in hand with state violence and repression. Because the internet is a recognised enabler of rights, internet disruptions have serious and far-reaching consequences for people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, rights to information and to organize. As such, it’s imperative that the Kenyan Government is transparent about the causes of the disruption and explain how it will fix the issues.

Misuse of crowd-control weapons

Despite growing awareness of the dangers of crowd-control weapons, their ongoing use in response to peaceful protests by law enforcement is deeply concerning. Research conducted by INCLO and PHR demonstrates that tear gas – the crowd control weapon most commonly used around the world and perceived to be among the least harmless –  can cause severe pain, suffocation, and long-term impacts such as chemical burns and vision loss. When the canisters are used as projectiles they become extraordinarily hazardous. Tear gas canisters are dense, metallic, large, often heated and can hit someone mid-explosion. Crowd-control weapons should only be used as an absolute last resort, after all other dialogue and de-escalation techniques have been exhausted. Law enforcement deployment of tear gas canisters has caused at least one death.

As such, we call upon the Kenyan authorities to:

  • Halt all ongoing intimidation and repression of citizens taking part in their right to free expression and peaceful assembly;
  • Release all arbitrarily detained demonstrators;
  • Remove the military from the protests;
  • Investigate any illegal actions committed by law enforcement that led to violations of human rights and/or serious injuries to demonstrators;
  • Strive for dialogue with all of its citizens, remembering that peaceful protests are as much of a cornerstone of democratic society as elections; 
  • Take immediate measures to ensure and protect internet connectivity throughout the country; investigate the causes of any internet disruptions thus far; and be transparent by publishing details of the causes and the actions taken to mitigate against the disruptions;
  • Ensure accountability for all human rights violations, without which there is no hope of stopping an ongoing cycle of violence as was shown in our previous statement on the use of live ammunition used against demonstrators in July 2023. 

For more details, refer to the statement by KHRC,  the ACHPR, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Police Reforms Working Group – Kenya.

Agora (Russia)

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS

Dejusticia (Colombia)

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights – EIPR

Human Rights Law Center – HRLC (Australia)

Human Rights Law Network – HRLN (India)

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union  – HCLU

Irish Council for Civil Liberties – ICCL

Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence  – KontraS (Indonesia)

Legal Resources Centre – LRC (South Africa)