Romani Man Abused in the Criminal Justice System

On February 20, 2004, Mr Sandor Varga, a 28-year-old Romani man from the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, was released from prison after having been held for about three and a half months for a suspected theft, according to his testimony to the ERRC, conducted in partnership with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisa-tion Minority Rights Center (MRC). Mr Varga stated that on October 9, 2003, at around 9:30 AM, five police officers entered his home and ordered him to accompany them to the police station. Mr Varga, who was recovering from having been stabbed earlier in the month, went with the police thinking they wanted him to identify his attacker. At the police station, he was placed in a room and handcuffed and an officer carrying a baseball bat entered. The officer began to hit Mr Varga all over his body with the bat, while insulting his Romani ethnicity, demanding that he confess to having committed a robbery that had allegedly taken place the day before. A woman was reported to have identified Mr Varga as the thief. Eventually four more officers entered and each beat Mr Varga with truncheons. A judge sentenced Mr Varga to one month of pre-trial detention, followed by another one-month term, then a two-month term. During his time in prison, Mr Varga did not receive medical treatment, despite repeated requests and the fact that he was still recovering from his stab wounds. Mr Varga was held until February 20, when the woman who claimed to have been robbed stated that the police had shown her a photograph of Mr Varga and instructed her to testify that he was responsible for the theft. The charges against Mr Varga were then dropped and he was released from custody. As of June 2004, Mr Varga had hired an attorney and filed a complaint against the police, asking for compensation for the damages he suffered in detention. (B92, ERRC, MRC)

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