More police abuse of Roma in Slovakia; Slovak courts don't mind
05 December 2000
Police abuse of Roma in Slovakia continues unabated, and recent decisions by Slovak courts indicate impunity for abusive officers. In one series of cases, provided to the ERRC and the Košice-based organisation Central European Educational Opportunities Center (CEREOC), according to testimony by the victim and witnesses, Mr J.B. and Mr V.P., two police officers in uniform but without identifying badges who are known to the residents of Hermanovce, came into the Hermanovce settlement in eastern Slovakia on October 25, 2000, at around 10:00 AM and forcibly entered the home of Ms Helena Červeňáková without producing any form of protocol, and without first even knocking. They were rude and aggressive. They demanded to know about a motorcycle and inquired about the whereabouts of Ms Červeňáková's son, Mr Rastislav Červeňák. She took them to another house where Mr Červeňák was sleeping. The officers handcuffed Mr Červeňák, beat him once across the hands with a truncheon and brought both him and the motorcycle to the municipal office. They also took into custody Mr Valen Kaleia.
|Ms Rastislav Červeňák, on November 15, 2000, in the Romani settlement in Hermanovce, eastern Slovakia, approximately three weeks after he was brutally beaten by police.
In Jarovnice, Mr Červeňák was again forced to strip and he was again beaten by the same officers on the inside of the legs, sides of the arms and back. They told him that if he paid them 1000 Slovak crowns (approximately 25 euros) they would not beat him anymore. He told them he did not have 1000 crowns and could not pay. They resumed beating him. Finally, they sprayed him in the eyes with tear gas and forced him to sign two documents four times each. These he did not read, first of all because he could not see as a result of the tear gas and secondly because he is illiterate. The motorcycle was impounded by the police. Mr Červeňák stated that he was forced to stand naked for around two hours before being released. He arrived home in the late afternoon the same day, around 4:30 PM.
Upon release, Mr Červeňák, Mr Kaleia and Ms Červeňáková went to the police driving inspectorate in Prešiov to complain that police had impounded the motorcycle. On the next day, October 26, the same officers reportedly again came to the settlement, detained Mr Červeňák and Mr Kaleia and took them to the municipal office in Hermanovce, where, according to the testimony of Mr Kaleia, they forced Mr Kaleia to stand with his head against the wall while they beat him with a truncheon on the back and the back of his legs. One of the officers additionally kicked him in the back of his legs. They also made him kneel on a stool and beat him on the soles of the feet. They then forced the two men to wait in the municipal office until the end of their duty - approximately five hours - before they were released. They were not charged with any crime. In late November, CEREOC filed complaints in connection with the cases to the office of the regional police directorate in Prešov and the Ministry of the Interior. As of December 11, CEREOC had received no responses to the complaints.
In a separate incident, also in the Romani settlement in Hermanovce, Mr Milan Makula told the ERRC and CEREOC that on October 14, 2000, while he was away from the settlement in Hermanovce, the Jarovnice police came to the settlement and began procedures to impound a Fiat Uno on which he was working. Mr Makula is a car mechanic and states that he was rebuilding the Uno from the parts of several other cars. When he arrived back in the camp, the police told him that the license plate on the Uno was false. They ordered him to drive the car to the police station. He stated that he did not have a valid driver's licence and that the car was not working. A second person from the settlement towed the car to the Jarovnice police department. Mr Makula stated that at the Jarovnice police station officers wanted him to pay a fine for the false licence plate and when he refused, they issued him with a fine for driving without a driver's licence, as he had sat in the car as it was towed to the police station. He also stated that police confiscated his auto repair tools as collateral prior to paying the fine. As he had not paid the fine, he had not received them back as of November 15, 2000, and the car remained impounded as of that date. He also stated that police confiscated drinking glasses given to them by a humanitarian non-governmental organisation. He told the ERRC and CEREOC that police frequently come to their house and confiscate things without providing any receipts. Roma in Hermanovce state that police have told them they will beat them "every time they do something." They also state that officers have come drunk and in civilian clothes to the settlement to force them to pay bribes of, generally, 1000 Slovak crowns (approximately 25 euros), for which they leave no receipt.
In another incident, on September 19, 2000, according to Slovak non-governmental organisations League of Human Rights Advocates and International Club for Peace Research (ICPR), Slovak special police forces raided the Romani settlement of Plavecký Štvrtok, in the district of Malacky, approximately 35 kilometers from Bratislava. Over 700 Roma live in this isolated ghetto settlement. Romani inhabitants of Plavecký Štvrtok report that at around 5:00 AM on September 19 a squad of approximately 25 masked policemen in dark uniforms entered the Romani settlement, forcefully searched houses, sporadically shot into the air, and beat people indiscriminately, including children and the elderly. The police did not show any search warrants or seek permission to enter homes.
Inhabitants of Plavecký Štvrtok informed the League of Human Rights Advocates and the ICPR that the police had come to arrest Mr Juraj Bihary, a 23-year-old Romani man, and two other Roma, Mr Frantíšek Jankovič, aged 33, and Mr Jožef Bihary, aged 29, accused of obstructing the arrest of Mr Juraj Bihary on September 15, 2000. Mr Juraj Bihary had been found guilty of driving without a licence and sentenced to a one-year prison term, which, as of September 19, he had failed to commence serving.
According to Ms Anna Bihary, aged 26, wife of Mr Jožef Bihary, her family was sleeping, when, about 5:00 AM, their door was kicked open. A group of masked police entered the house forcefully, started kicking everyone, and broke one of the windows. The grabbed Mr Jožef Bihary, threw him on the floor on top of the broken glass, and began to hit him with black batons. In the house, they threw Ms Bihary onto a bed, called her a "Gypsy prostitute," and told her to sit down and shut up or they would kill her. Her two children and her sister-in-law's four children were frightened and crying. A police officer reportedly put his pistol into the mouth of one of the children and threatened to shoot. Mr Jožef Bihary stated that the police beat him intensely, then handcuffed him, took him to the police station and put him into a cell where he was again severely beaten, this time with the wooden leg of a broken table. At about 1:00 PM the police took Mr Jožef Bihary to a hospital in Malacky where he was examined. However, the officers refused to remove the handcuffs, and the doctor could carry out only a quick examination before the police took Mr Jožef Bihary back to the detention cell where they continued to beat him. At around 5:00 PM the police brought a statement which they told Mr Jožef Bihary to sign. He did not dare to object to the contents of the statement, or refuse to sign, for fear of further beating. The police released him between 7:00 and 7:30 PM on the same day.
Mr Fratíšek Jankovič, another of those from whom the police were searchnig, was sleeping at the home of his mother-in-law, Ms Nadežda Huberová, on the night of the raid. Ms Huberová, a 32-year-old mother of three, stated that at about 5:00 AM, while she and her children were sleeping, the door of her house was violently kicked open and about seven masked policemen in dark uniforms entered the house. The children woke up, and one of them, ten-year-old Radka Huberová, suffered an epileptic fit as a result of the shock. The officers threw the children out of bed and turned the beds upside down, shouting "Where is Juraj Bihary?"
The police allegedly dragged Mr Jankovič out of the house wearing only trousers, with no shoes, and threw him into a waiting police van where officers beat him. They took him to the police station and threw him into the cubicle of the men's toilet. After some time, two policemen took him into another room, reportedly put something like handcuffs around his neck, and dragged him around, while his hands were also handcuffed together. While beating him, the officers reportedly also verbally abused him. The police then began to interrogate Mr Jankovič, and two of them, whom he knew by name, forced him to nod his head in agreement to whatever the interrogators said. They threatened to burn him. The officers drew up a statement which he was not given to read, but was forced to sign without knowing the contents. He later learned that he had signed a statement that he had prevented the arrest of Mr Juraj Bihary on September 12, 2000. The police released Mr Jankovič at about 7:00 PM on the same day. In the course of the raid, Mr Juraj Bihary was arrested and police officers reportedly bound him to a tree near the Romani settlement and beat him severely. After the raid he was taken to prison to begin serving his sentence. Mr Juraj Bihary's mother visited him in prison a few days after the beating and said that the head injuries he sustained during the arrest had not yet healed.
On October 26, the League of Human Rights Advocates and the International Club for Peace Research (ICPR) sent protest letters to Slovak authorities, urging them to investigate the incident in a thorough, impartial and timely manner. As of December 12, the League of Human Rights Advocates had received letters from both the President's and the Prime Minister's Offices, stating that the police had investigated the incident and concluded that there had been no violation of human rights, and that police had acted in accordance with the law.
Recent decisions by Slovak courts have reinforced a climate of impunity for officers who abuse their powers where Roma are at issue. On October 18, 2000, a district court in Poprad sentenced Officer Marian Fabian to one year in prison for damage to health under Articles 224(1) and 224(2) of the Slovak Penal Code because "out of carelessness" he caused the death of Ľubomir Šarišský in police custody. Mr Šarišský died of a gunshot wound he sustained after being brought into an interrogation cell by Officer Fabian in a police station in Poprad, central Slovakia, on August 12, 1999 (see "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights 3/1999). Officer Fabian will not serve the sentence, as it has been commuted, and he is on probation for 2 and 1/2 years. On November 20, 2000, the ERRC sent a letter to General Prosecutor Milan Hamzel to express concern about the ruling and to urge Slovak authorities to reopen investigation in the case. As of December 11, 2000, the ERRC had received no response to its letter.
In other Roma-related news from Slovakia, the Czech daily Právo reported on September 26, 2000, that Slovak mobile telephone owners received SMS (written text) messages advertising a new service offering "50 free minutes for every Rom you kill". A spokesperson for the Globetel mobile telephone network said mobile phone operators cannot "influence or censor the content" of SMS messages. The author of the messages had reportedly not been identified as of November 27.
On November 8, 2000, the European Union released its "Report on Progress Towards Accession by each of the Candidate Countries". The report expressed concern over the degree to which measures aimed at improving the situation of the Roma in Slovakia have been implemented and called for improvement in this field. On Slovakia, Annex 1 of the "Report's Enlargement Strategy Paper" stated: "Further progress can be noticed in developing approaches to tackle the problems of minorities, but there remains a gap between policy formulation and implementation on the ground. Tangible improvement of the situation of the Roma minority in particular by implementing specific measures, a short term priority of the 1999 Accession Partnership, has therefore not been achieved to a large extent. Increased efforts in implementing legislation in various sectors as well as strengthening policies and budgetary means in line with the medium term priorities of the 1999 Accession Partnership are needed in this respect." Further information on the human rights situation of Roma in Slovakia is available on the ERRC website at: www.errc.org.
(CEREOC, ERRC, ICPR, League of Human Rights Advocates, Právo)