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Kenya: What You Should Know When You Pull Out Your Phone to Record Police Abuse


Seven months ago, Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai said he wanted Kenyans to turn in any videos showing police beating up citizens. “Forward videos to us. I depend on you to rein in errant officers,” he said in a tweet on June 22, 2020, under the hashtag #EngageTheIG.

It’s not clear if he has changed his mind. In a statement on December 31, 2020, he warned Kenyans against “attacks on police officers” and posting them on social media. He said the Kenyans’ “modus operandi is to upload videos on social media to ridicule the NPS and subject innocent officers to the unforgiving court of public opinion.”

The police boss said this against a backdrop of increasing cases of police brutality and public outcry. His #EngageTheIG tweet implied citizens were free to record police misconduct and post the videos.

In fact, over the past decade, Kenyans have been constantly and instinctively recording police violence and bribery and sending the videos to the media for broadcasting or posting them on social media.

Executed two suspects

Citizen journalism is alive and well in Kenya. It impacts significantly on the media. Without professional journalism training, citizens supplement or augment the work of professional journalists.

One of the best examples of this is a set of pictures of undercover police who stopped in the middle of traffic on the busy Langa’ta Road, near Wilson Airport, on the morning of January 19, 2011 and executed two suspects, shooting them dead at point blank range.

One photo shows the police with guns pointed at the heads of the suspects who they ordered to lie on the tarmac. The subsequent photos show the two suspects lying dead in the middle of the road.

The dramatic pictures, published in the Daily Nation, were taken by a motorist. Upon publication of the pictures, George Saitoti, then Minister of Internal Security, called the killings criminal and promised full investigations. Without the publication of the pictures the police officers would probably have got off scot-free.

The use of smartphones has enabled everyone to be a photojournalist and witness to police wrongdoing. However, there are certain things one should know when recording police in action. You have a constitutional right to record police performing their duties in public. This constitutional right is only limited by the law forbidding citizens from obstructing police and the law of trespass.

We also know police don’t like their pictures taken especially when they are behaving badly. You can easily get into a confrontation with them. However, police have no right to delete your pictures or videos. Erasing them is the equivalent of obstructing justice by destroying evidence.

Truthful journalism

To avoid losing your recording in such cases consider using a live streaming app which uploads your images to a server at the same time. You’ll then be able to recover your images later.

If a police officer orders you to stop filming, consider whether you are safe to defy the orders. It might be better to avoid being clobbered because in such cases the police is virtually “the law.” Moreover, it’s also wise to remember that even though you have recorded the wrongdoing, the police may not be prosecuted. Experience tells us.

Police officers are obviously aware of the increasing citizen journalists who record them in action. However, this does not seem to deter them from behaving unlawfully. This suggests Mr Mutyambai should do more than just ask citizens to turn in their videos.

He should order this men and women to stop interfering with the work of journalists, including citizen journalists. The interference hampers truthful journalism.

The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: Call or text 0721989264.

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