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Police Attack Roma Community in Slovakia: Children and Elderly Injured

24 May 2017

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Budapest, Zborov 24 May 2017: The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) have received video evidence of police officers attacking Roma at random in the street in Zborov, Slovakia. Police entered the Romani neighbourhood of Zborov on 16th April and began indiscriminately beating Roma, including children and elderly people.

Three people required medical assistance: a 5-year-old boy, a man in his 40’s with a heart condition, and an elderly lady with disabilities. The ERRC has learned that an ambulance was temporarily blocked from entering the neighbourhood by the police after it was called to treat injured members of the community. Witnesses who filmed the violence were visited by police officers later that evening and told to delete any footage they had of the events. Our informant who filmed the incident refused to be intimidated and stated “what I filmed happened in a public space, why should I delete it?”

He described to us the scenes he witnessed when the police entered the neighbourhood:

“The first police car arrived between 5 - 6pm” he told an ERRC monitor, “after some time another six policemen in uniform appeared, as well as two others in civilian clothes. A young boy was injured, and also a man in his forties was pushed to the ground despite the police being told by his relatives that he had a heart condition. The elderly lady you can see being pushed to the ground in the video also has some disability.”

Police were called to the area after a fight broke out in the Romani neighbourhood. Their response was to enter with batons drawn, causing terror amongst the residents as they advanced through the streets, beating men, women and children in their path. A Romani resident who fled the violence said “if anyone tried to reason with them, when they appealed to them to stop - they were beaten”.

The Minister of the Interior, Robert Kalinak, has announced plans to increase police numbers in municipalities across Slovakia where there are large Romani populations. “If this is the sort of policing we can expect, is it safe to have even more police officers on the streets of majority Roma areas? We do not want more officers whose idea of good police work is brutalising minority communities in these locations” said ERRC President Đorđe Jovanović.

The ERRC has looked at the crime statistics for the municipalities where the minister has proposed an increase of police units. We found that the areas which have been proposed for an increase in policing are not those where the crime rates are highest, but those where the Roma population is relatively high. According to the government’s own data, there is no strong correlation between a high percentage of Roma in a municipality and increased crime rate. When we contacted the office of the Minister of the Interior, they denied any racial bias in the decision to increase police units almost exclusively in municipalities with high Romani populations.

The current government is once again using Roma as a scapegoat for cheap political gain. The fight against so-called “Gypsy criminality” is a popular tool of Slovak politicians to appeal to popular antigypsyism amongst the electorate. There is little evidence that increasing police in Romani areas will lower crime rates in those areas. From what we have seen in Zborov, and considering the high level of institutional racism in police services across Slovakia, increasing the number of police officers in Romani areas will only increase incidences of police brutality.

The ERRC are awaiting a response from the spokesperson of the regional police office.

We are investigating the case further and seeking to identify the officers involved. We will explore all avenues to ensure that this matter is dealt with appropriately by Slovak authorities, including domestic and international courts if necessary.

The ERRC report Ethnic Profiling in Slovakia: Prejudiced Policing of Roma Neighbourhoods is available to download here.

This press release is also available in Slovak.

For more information contact:

Jonathan Lee
Communications Coordinator
European Roma Rights Centre
+36 30 500 2118

Marek Balaz
Human Rights Monitoring Coordinator
European Roma Rights Centre
+36 30 500 2227

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