Concerning recent events in Hajduhadhaz, Hungary
23 March 1999
The ERRC is deeply concerned about the human rights situation of Roma in the town of Hajduhadhaz, eastern Hungary, approximately 20 kilometres from the city of Debrecen. Hajduhadhaz is home to approximately 13,000 persons, around 3000 of whom are Romani. The ERRC first visited Hajduhadhaz in September 1997 and documented instances of police brutality against Romani individuals at that time. Since then, the situation-- especially in terms of relations between Roma and the police -- appears to have either remained as critical or to have worsened. On March 14 and 15, 1999, the ERRC documented recent instances of alleged police brutality against Romani individuals. Additionally, four individuals- three of them Romani and one a non-Romani man-recently gave accounts of their experiences with the police in Hajduhadhaz on a nationally televised documentary program aired in Hungary on the evening of March 12, 1999. According to the testimony of Romani and non-Romani individuals in Hajduhadhaz, the police now appear to be intent on taking revenge against persons who spoke about their experiences on the program.
The ERRC conducted interviews with three Romani men, all of whom independently alleged that they and one other Romani man had been physically abused and their ethnicity insulted on March 6, March 8, March 9 and March 10, while they were in detention in connection with a reported break-in on the night of March 5, 1999. According to testimony provided to the ERRC by 21-year-old AR, his brother 19-year-old ZR, and their cousin, 15-year-old LH, acting on the basis of unknown information, police conducted house searches on the morning of March 6 in two flats occupied by the Romani men and their relatives. During these searches, police impounded a pair of boots. The same morning, police officers detained the three men. A fourth Romani man, 19-year-old Mr DR, reportedly turned himself into the police shortly thereafter, after having heard a rumour that police were looking for him.
In the subsequent hours, three police officers whose names are known to the ERRC physically abused the four Romani concerned during successive periods lasting fifteen minutes to half an hour in which they were interrogated independently. The officers also insulted the ethnic origins of the men while interrogating them. They were apparently attempting to extract a confession from them to a break-in which had occurred the night before in a local shop. The four men were released without being charged at approximately four in the afternoon on Saturday March 6, but told to return on Monday March 8 at seven in the morning. They were subsequently interrogated on March 8, March 9 and March 10. On all three days, officers physically abused and insulted them. Their allegations include:
Officer SN reportedly pushed AR face first into the seat of a chair. He reportedly struck AR in the head with his fist. Another officer, Mr IN, allegedly punched AR in the mouth, causing his mouth to bleed. His subsequent request to be allowed to go to the bathroom to wash the blood from his mouth was refused. IN also reportedly punched AR in the stomach and slapped him repeatedly. Officers called AR a "dirty Gypsy" and uttered a range of profanities about his relatives.
Police officer IN reportedly knelt on the thigh of ZR, causing pain by pressing his knee into ZR's thigh. He additionally struck ZR's head against a wall, causing it to swell. He also stabbed ZR on the top of his head with a set of keys and kicked ZR on the knees and ankles. Officers slapped ZR repeatedly. Officers called ZR a "stinking Gypsy", said obscene things about his relatives and told him "not to Gypsy", by which they meant "Don't lie".
Fifteen-year-old LH, a minor, was also interrogated on March 6, March 8, March 9 and March 10. He told the ERRC that he was physically abused on March 6. Officer SN struck him twice across the mouth with his open hand. He was not physically abused on subsequent days. Officers did not inform his legal guardian of his detention, in contravention of Hungarian law. On March 8, his father came to the police station while he was being interrogated but was not allowed into the interrogation room, in contravention of Hungarian law.
On March 10, while all four men were being photographed by police in a courtyard in back of the police station, officers paraded a dog amongst them and approximately ten other Romani men who had been detained, encouraging the dog to snap at them. None of the men were bitten. Officer IN allegedly walked behind the Romani men with a pair of scissors, pretending to cut their hair. Officer IN also suggested to AR that he jump on the upturned prongs of a garden rake in the courtyard. AR did not do so.
On all four days, the interrogations were audible to the other men, who were made to wait either in the hall outside the interrogation room, or in a detention cell. LH told the ERRC that he signed a two-page text on March 8 which he did not read and which was not read to him. AR and ZR told the ERRC that they did not sign any statements. None of the Romani men have been informed whether or not charges have been brought against them. During the week, Romani relatives of the four men were threatened with beating when they stated their intention of filing a complaint about police ill-treatment.
A second incident concerns an incident of police ill-treatment which took place in January, as well as subsequent efforts at revenge by the police following the publication of the story on a television program shown nationally. On March 15, the ERRC interviewed a 16-year-old Romani youth named Attila Rezes concerning an incident of police brutality in Hajduhadhaz which almost cost him his life in January 1999. At approximately 8:00 PM on January 11, according to his testimony, Mr Rezes was walking home from a local video shop with a friend of his when a police car approached them at high speed. Two officers not known to Mr Rezes got out of the car, threw Mr Rezes and his friend to the ground and repeatedly kicked and struck them with rubber truncheons. Officers struck Mr Rezes a number of times in the head.
Officers then ordered the two men to stand and handcuffed them. Mr Rezes told the ERRC that he felt dizzy as he stood. Officers then allegedly forced his friend to get into the trunk of the car, while Mr Rezes was put in the back seat of the police car with a non-Romani man in a leather jacket whom he did not know. The two Romani men were brought to the police station in Hajduhadhaz where they were made to stand facing a wall. Officers warned them not to touch the wall, and various officers struck Mr Rezes several times for disobeying this order.
Approximately half an hour later, the two men were reportedly brought together into an office and interrogated in connection with an incident in which the window of a shop was broken. During the interrogation, officers reportedly struck Mr Rezes with their fists and with truncheons on his head, legs and shins, approximately ten times. At around 12:30 AM, Mr Rezes was released from custody. He was not asked to sign any documents and he was not charged with a crime.
Upon arriving home, Mr Rezes felt ill. He told the ERRC that he asked his father for an aspirin and went to bed. He reportedly remembers little after arriving home. His father, Mr Imre Rezes, told the ERRC that he did not wake up the next day.
On January 13, his father brought him to hospital, where he was admitted and diagnosed as having intra-cranial haematomae. A medical protocol issued subsequently documents a three centimetre long wound on the left side of his head. He was successfully operated on the same day. He remained in hospital for approximately eleven or twelve days. He was released while still in pain and subsequently had difficulty speaking.
The Hajdu-Bihar County Prosecutor's Office subsequently opened investigation into police conduct in connection with the incident. Two officers were reportedly detained in connection with the incident in late January. One was released shortly thereafter, while a second spent approximately one month in detention. Attila Rezes has been interrogated three or four times by an official from the prosecutor's office, the first time in Debrecen, and subsequently in the office of the local government in Hajduhadhaz. The most recent such hearing took place on March 16.
On March 12, the television channel RTL-Klub, seen nationally in Hungary, broadcast an episode of the documentary program Fokusz, in which they featured allegations of police brutality in Hajduhadhaz. Attila Rezes was shown with his face and name broadcast in full, and three other individuals testified with their faces obscured.
Since the March 12 broadcast, police officers have reportedly expended intense effort to discover the identities of the three persons shown on the Fokusz program. On March 13, one of the men, a 23-year-old non-Romani man named Jozsef Vass was detained by police, allegedly in connection with the March 5 theft described above. Officers conducted a house search in which they confiscated items including two bars of chocolate, a package of tea and cosmetic products including shampoo. Mr Vass alleges that he was physically abused in police custody and that officers stated that they should treat him "specially", since he had appeared on "that television program". Mr Vass was told to report to police at 7:00 AM on March 16. The ERRC engaged a lawyer to accompany Mr Vass to the interrogation, but he was reportedly not let into the interrogation room, in contravention of Hungarian law. In late morning, Mr Vass was released, but following the departure of his lawyer, he was reportedly detained near the police station, taken back into custody and physically abused. The two other men who appeared on the March 12 Fokusz program, both of whom are Romani, went into hiding because they feared retaliatory action by police.
On March 17, journalists from the Fokusz program returned to Hajduhadhaz and accompanied Mr Vass and Mr Imre Rezes, the brother of Attila Rezes and one of the Romani individuals who had appeared on the March 12 Fokusz programme, to a pub known to be frequented by police officers. In the presence of a hidden television camera, officers assaulted and physically abused Mr Vass. The incident was broadcast on the television station RTL-Klub on March 18. In the broadcast, individuals identified by the two youths as police officers responsible for earlier incidents of police brutality visibly punch Mr Vass three times in the face. Mr Vass suffered a bloody nose and other facial injuries in the assault.
Roma in Hajduhadhaz state that police brutality in the town is endemic. One 21-year-old Romani man interviewed by the ERRC stated that he had been physically abused three times by the police and that he personally knew of ninety or one hundred instances in which police officers assaulted Roma. Mr Istvan Horvath, the head of a Debrecen regional office of the Foundation for Roma Civil Rights, one of the leading Romani organisations in Hungary, told the ERRC that although his office is aware that the situation in Hajduhadhaz is among the worst the county, local Romani leaders do not call him in connection with instances of police brutality because it would be too dangerous.
According to information made available to the ERRC, one officer from Hajduhadhaz has previously been sentenced in connection with an instance of abuse in which he broke the ribs of a Romani man outside a discotheque in 1994 or 1995. The officer concerned, whose name is known to the ERRC, was reportedly given an eight-month sentence. He allegedly paid a fine of 24,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 100 euros) and did not serve time in prison. He is reportedly still an active member of the police force.
Persons wishing to express concern about the situation in Hajduhadhaz are urged to write to:
General Prosecutor of Hungary Dr Kalman Gyorgyi
Marko u. 16
Fax: (36-1) 269 2862
Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minorities Mr Jeno
Tukory u. 3