39 killed in Kenya anti-tax protests: rights body

July 02, 2024 | 16:57
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A total of 39 people have been killed in anti-government demonstrations in Kenya, the national rights watchdog said Monday, as activists geared up for a new round of protests this week.

The toll announced by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is almost double the figure previously disclosed by the authorities for those killed while contesting a raft of deeply unpopular tax increases that have now been withdrawn.

39 killed in Kenya anti-tax protests: rights body
39 killed in Kenya anti-tax protests: rights body, Photo: SIMON MAINA / AFP

"Data from our records indicates that thirty-nine people have died and three hundred and sixty-one injured in relation to the protests countrywide," the state-funded body said in a statement, adding that the figures covered the period from June 18 to July 1.

It also said there had been 32 cases of "enforced or involuntary disappearances" and 627 arrests of protesters.

Largely peaceful anti-tax rallies -- led by mostly young Gen-Z protesters -- descended into shocking scenes of deadly violence last Tuesday when lawmakers passed the contentious legislation.

After the vote was announced, crowds ransacked the parliament complex in central Nairobi and it was partly set ablaze as police fired live bullets at protesters.

It is the most serious crisis to confront Ruto since he took office in September 2022 following a deeply divisive election in a nation often considered a beacon of stability in a turbulent region.

- 'Excessive and disproportionate force' -

"The Commission continues to condemn in the strongest terms possible the unwarranted violence and force that was inflicted on protesters, medical personnel, lawyers, journalists and on safe spaces such as churches, medical emergency centres and ambulances," the KNCHR said.

"We maintain that the force used against the protesters was excessive and disproportionate."

The KNCHR also said it "strongly condemns the violent and shocking acts of lawlessness that was exhibited by some of the protesters" including the parliament and other government buildings.

The Kenyan authorities were taken by surprise after small rallies against the tax increases gathered momentum, with thousands of people taking to the streets.

Fresh protests have been called by activists starting from Tuesday despite Ruto announcing last week that he would not sign into law the bill containing the tax hikes.

Leaflets have been posted on social media with the hashtags "Occupy Everywhere", "Ruto must go" and "Reject Budgeted Corruption".

The president said in a television interview Sunday that 19 people had died in the protests, but insisted he did not have "blood on my hands" and pledged an investigation into the deaths.

Kenya's cash-strapped government had said previously that the tax increases were necessary to service the massive public debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), equal to roughly 70 percent of GDP.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the country to implement fiscal reforms in order to access crucial funding from the Washington-based lender.

Ruto had already rolled back some tax measures after the protests began, prompting the treasury to warn of a gaping budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.6 billion).

In Sunday's interview, he had warned that the government would have to borrow heavily following the decision to scrap the finance bill.


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