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Police torture ‘Standard’ journalist for exposing human rights abuses

The Standard journalist Isaiah Gwengi. Mr Gwengi was stripped naked and taunted by Administration Police officers for fighting the Government. (Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard)

Seven armed Administration Police officers brutalised The Standard journalist Isaiah Gwengi for five hours inside a dingy police cell in a revenge attack for his investigative articles on their abuse of human rights.

During the ordeal, Mr Gwengi was stripped naked and taunted for fighting the Government using a “mere pen”.

The officers made fun of him, saying journalists who wanted to write about them should get guns instead of using small biros.

The officers from the Quick Response unit also squeezed Gwengi’s private parts to ascertain whether he was circumcised. When he protested, they kicked him in the stomach and whacked him on the face.

To stop him from begging for mercy, they inflicted more pain on the Bondo-based writer, clobbering him on the back of his head using a gun butt. When he started bleeding profusely, they loaded him into their vehicle alongside human rights activist Rogers Ochieng, who was arrested with him, and drove the pair to the nearby Usenge Police Station.

Commanding Officer Meshack Abuluma, alarmed by the pair’s injuries, refused to book them in and insisted they should be taken for medication first. Armed to the teeth, the crack AP squad drove to the nearby Got Agulu Sub-County Hospital, where a clinical officer was instructed to administer first aid before the two were returned to the station.

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Gwengi narrated how after leaving the hospital, the officers stopped the car and argued over whether to throw the pair into the nearby Lake Victoria or return them to the cells.

“There was this mean-looking officer who kept saying how he hated journalists and asked why we should not be thrown into the lake to drown. My heart skipped a beat when one of the officers appeared to support the idea. But they resolved to return us to the police station,” Gwengi said yesterday, soon after he was released.

Gwengi and Ochieng were arrested at the small but busy Usenge township in Siaya County as the journalist interviewed the activist about an impending protest by local traders against harassment by the Quick Response officers.

“They came at top speed with sirens blaring. Two officers alighted from the vehicle and confronted us. They grabbed my cell phone and hauled us into the waiting vehicle. They slapped us as they drove to their camp. Every question I asked was answered with a slap,” said Gwengi.

“I heard one of them reporting to their seniors that they had finished the job. I also heard him say how Mr Ochieng and I had been spoiling their names.”

Late last year, Gwengi wrote a feature on human rights abuses Usenge residents suffered at the hands of police. Since then, he and Ochieng have received threats from the officers and recorded statements with the Department of Criminal Investigations in Bondo.

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda, who stormed the police station to demand their release, condemned what he termed a savage attack on innocent Kenyans.

“I am shocked at the savage force used against the journalist and human rights crusader. Where is the Inspector General of Police? How can he allow a few officers to put such a busy town under curfew for two days?” asked a furious Mr Ochanda.

Attempts by The Standard team to seek comments from the QRP Commander, Inspector Ben Ongoro, were thwarted by heavily armed officers who barred them from entering the premises.

Ochanda said the police squad was posted in Usenge to protect fishermen against pirates on the lake but had abandoned its work and was reigning terror on innocent traders instead.

“I am beginning to doubt if these police officers were really brought here to patrol the lake. There is something sinister about these police officers. We should demand to be told who brought them here and with what motive,” he said.

The MP said the officers should be ordered out of the chief’s camp, where they have been since 2015, and moved to the island.

“Their work is on the islands and the lake, yet they have taken over the work of the regular police,” he added.

The trouble that culminated in Gwengi’s arrest and assault began on Tuesday, when two of the police officers tried to arrest a fisherman who overpowered them and fled.

Julia Akinyi, a local trader, said residents had been living in fear for the past one year.

“These police officers have ruined the economy of this town because shops and bars have to close by 7pm,” she said.

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