FACT CHECK: Police Beating Video Misleading


FACT CHECK: Police Beating Video Misleading

Seven months after the 2022 general election, Kenyans are swimming in another deluge of misinformation. In the wake of protests led by opposition leader Raila Odinga, misleading photos and videos were posted on Twitter. Even the feared DCI posted misleading images of suspects they were seeking, leading Taifa Leo, the feisty Swahili daily, to print a headline that delighted Kenyans everywhere: “Udanganyifu wa DCI”.

But even before the DCI was investigated online (they’ve since apologised), a horrific video that showed policemen with batons violently beating two people on the ground was circulating. One person who refused to lie down took the brunt of it from the General Service Unit officers in their trademark maroon berets. Robert Alai, who is an elected Member of County Assembly in Nairobi, shared the video with a tweet. “Police, Prosecutor and Judge in One. Lawlessness isn’t with the demonstrators #MaandamanoMonday,” Alai wrote.

The video, which received hundreds of thousands of views, sparked indignation.

Many Twitter users disagreed with Alai about the origin of the video, arguing that it showed a police beating that took place in Mombasa during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020. 

They also accused him of spreading false information, an action at odds with the public expectations of an elected official. We decided to establish the date of the events shown in the video as precisely as possible.

We performed a reverse image search with a screenshot of the video and found that the video already existed in August 2022, a fact also found by fact-checking organisations. 

This means the video existed long before the protest on 20 March 2023, contradicting Alai’s claim. However, we still do not know exactly when the events in the video took place. 

Figure 1: Blue arrow shows storefront with sign of TV and laptop repair business in video of police officers beating two people. 

A Twitter user commented below Robert Alai’s tweet and stated that the incident had occurred in a neighbourhood of Mombasa City called Mwembe Tayari. In the video, a sign advertising a TV repair business is partly visible. We searched Google Maps for electronics repair businesses in the Mwembe Tayari area and shared the video with a staffer from a business whose name we shall not disclose. We asked if they knew the location in the video where the police had beaten the two men and when it had happened. 

“This is close to our shop. The event was during last year’s election,” a staffer told Debunk. The staffer offered an opinion as to why the beating could not have happened during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. “It’s not during Covid-19 as people would have had masks on. For example, the guy seated and smoking at the corner, no mask on, the other guy on the right corner fixing keys and padlocks has no mask either, neither do the police.” The staff member did not claim to have witnessed the incident personally, and we could not confirm the account independently. So we searched for more evidence.

We used Google Street View to explore the neighbourhood around the electronics repair business. We came across this area on Raha Leo Street which strongly matches the location shown in the video, with the same shape of roof, the electricity pole and dark-green iron sheets. 

Figure 2: Location in Mwembe Tayari area shown in Google Street View (left) and video (right). Note the building’s roof, green iron sheets and electricity pole. 

In another part of the video, we can see tall buildings including one white building with blue sections (see blue arrow below). Using Google Street View, we located the same building behind the Askari Monument in Mombasa’s Mwembe Tayari area, close to the spot identified earlier. 

Figure 3: Building with blue sections in the video

Figure 4: Same building with blue sections behind the Askari Monument in Mwembe Tayari seen in Google Street View.

We can conclude with confidence that the beating took place on Raha Leo Street in Mwembe Tayari area of Mombasa County.

If posters could talk

A close look at the video shows two identical election posters on an electricity pole. The poster shows a bearded man, and the name “Ali” and “Mwa”, though the whole name remains unclear. On the bottom of the poster the words “MP Mvita” can be made out. Mvita is an electoral constituency in downtown Mombasa. We searched Google using the terms “Ali” and “Mwa”, the wildcard “*” and the constituency “Mvita”, and found results about a shooting that targeted a political candidate, Ali Mwatsahu in April 2022. Many results misspelt his name “Mwatsau”.

We wanted to know if the man in the posters was indeed Ali Mwatsahu and searched for his name on multiple social media platforms. A YouTube account with the same name has videos that show Mwatsahu campaigning in 2022 to be elected MP for Mvita Constituency (Note: Most campaign videos appear to have been uploaded on 16 August 2022. The election happened on 9 August 2022). 

Multiple videos show Mwatsahu’s supporters carrying a banner with an image which matches the one on the electricity pole in the video. The bluish-green shirt, the beard, black hat, arm in a sling and the maroon-brownish colour of the poster all match.

Figure 6: Photo montage showing a match between posters in the video (left) and Ali Mwatsahu’s 2022 campaign banners in Mvita (right). Mwatsahu confirmed to Debunk that he was the person in the posters.

We asked Mtwasahu if it was him in the poster. “Hii ni picha yangu, eeh,” (This is my picture, yes) he replied, in the affirmative. He also agreed that it was from the August 2022 election. “Ni kweli” (It’s true), he said. Mwatsahu added that he had been a candidate for the United Democratic Alliance until he was shot in April 2022. A video of him receiving his certificate of nomination in May 2022 from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is posted on a YouTube page with his name. He was cleared to vie for election as a Member of the National Assembly in Mvita under the Umoja Summit Party of Kenya, which appears in the videos, and was gazetted in July 2022. 

From the evidence available, it is clear the video shared on Twitter dates back to the 2022 election period, when Ali Mwatsahu was officially a candidate for Mvita Constituency. The video cannot have been taken during the Covid-19 restrictions because Kenya’s Covid-19 curfew was lifted on Mashujaa Day, 20 October 2021, well before mid-2022 when Mwatsahu became a candidate in the Umoja Summit Party. 

Robert Alai’s viral claim that the video shows a beating during the protests of 20 March 2023 is, of course, false.

Postscript: We asked after Mr. Mwatsahu’s health. He says some bullet fragments remain in his body and his right arm, which suffered nerve damage, does not work properly. Otherwise, he is grateful to be up and about.

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