Police abuse of Roma in Romania

11 July 2000

On May 19, 2000, Romanian police officers in Bucharest allegedly shot Mr Mugurel Soare, a young Romani man from Bucharest, in the head. According to a police statement quoted in the daily România Liberă on May 22, three police officers had seen one man running, pursued by two men with knives. The officers reportedly stopped all of the men and asked for their identity cards, at which point one of the men, Mr Soare, cut one of the police officers two times with his knife. The officer then shot Mr Soare in the head. However, on May 22, the daily Adevărul reported a different version of the incident according to the testimony of Mr Vipan Soare, brother of the victim and witness to the shooting. According to Mr Vipan Soare, his brother did not have a knife when he was stopped by the police; they were walking in the city when they were approached by a man whom they knew and with whom they were in conflict. This man was accompanied by three men in civilian clothes, one of whom shot Mr Mugurel Soare without warning. As of June 23, Mr Mugurel Soare was still alive but in critical condition; he could not speak and half of his body was paralysed. The case is under investigation by the Military Prosecutor's Office.

In another incident in Covasna, in the Transylvania region, a police officer shot and killed Mr Vinetou Borcsa, a twenty-five-year-old Romani man, on the evening of May 1, 2000. Mr Borcsa and three family members were involved in a conflict with another Romani man, which on this evening evolved into a fight including some fifteen Roma. Unknown persons notified the police and two police officers arrived on the site thirty minutes later, and then called for a further reinforcement consisting of twenty-two police officers, according to a statement given to the ERRC by a Covasna police officer. According to the testimonies of Romani witnesses given to the ERRC in Covasna on June 17, some of the Roma, including Mr Borcsa, then attacked the police with knives. In the ensuing confusion, shouts and several shots were heard, after which Mr Borcsa, who was reportedly standing close to the police officers, fell to the ground. Though the police reported that he died in the hospital one day later, some Romani witnesses claimed that he died on the spot. Police officers told the ERRC that investigation had been closed because they considered the shooting justified. The Roma have not filed complaints. According to ERRC field research, several of the Roma involved were charged with disturbing public order, but, as of June 23, they have not been arrested.

Abusive police raids have also recently been reported in Romania. On May 15, 2000, in the late afternoon, a large number of police officers from the special forces reportedly raided a Romani neighbourhood in Sector 3 of Bucharest, according to the testimonies of witnesses given to the ERRC on May 17. During the raid, the police searched the house of the thirty-seven-year-old Romani man named Mr M.S., took his family into the back yard, and threatened to take them all to the police station. When Mr M.S. asked to see an arrest warrant, the police reportedly responded that they did not need any, "as this was a routine operation." The police kept the identification documents of Ms L.S., the wife of Mr M.S., saying that they were taking them for "verification", and that she should come to the police station the next morning to pay a fine, as the identification had expired. A young Romani man visiting the family of Mr M.S. was, however, taken to the police station. The justification was that he lived in Vitan, a region of Bucharest where, according to the police officers, "bad things happen". The man was released the following day. Several other Romani persons from the neighbourhood were reportedly also taken to the police station for "verification".

The same sources told the ERRC that during a raid in the same neighbourhood of Bucharest several months earlier, the police broke into the house of the same family, found R.S., a seventeen-year-old Romani boy, alone at home and ordered him to lie face-down on the floor, threatening to beat him. In another late night raid, in November 1999, the police reportedly broke into the house of Mr M.S. through the back-door window, while the children were alone at home. The police called G.S., the fourteen-year-old daughter of the family, a "prostitute" and threatened to take her with them. When Mr M.S. went to the local police station to inquire about the incident two days later, he was told that the police "did not know who these men were." Mr M.S. did not file a complaint against the police.

According to ERRC field research, on May 6, 2000, in Buneşti, northwest of Braşov, two police officers in civilian clothes severely beat Mr K.M., a thirty-year-old Romani man, from the nearby town of Rupea. Mr K.M. had been involved in an argument and physical fight with his employer at his workplace, during which he suffered a severe injury to the head. Another worker called the police, who, upon arrival, allegedly made no attempt to investigate the incident. They first beat Mr K.M. and then took him to the local police station, where they continued hitting and kicking him all over his body, while verbally abusing him. After half an hour of such treatment, Mr K.M. lost consciousness. A witness outside the police station at the time Mr K.M. was in detention reported hearing screams from the police station during the time when Mr K.M. was in detention there. The same witness saw two policemen take the man, unconscious and covered with blood, out of the station. After this, some colleagues took Mr K.M. to a hospital, where the doctors allegedly refused to treat him, claiming that he was drunk. As a result, the Romani man suffered from severe pain, difficulties in movement and speech, numbness in his left arm, and visible bruises all over his body. However, he did not obtain a medical certificate for financial reasons. Mr K.M. did not file a complaint against the police officers for fear of revenge. On May 17, 2000, colleagues of the officers who beat Mr K.M. allegedly visited his workplace and warned Mr K.M. that "he had escaped easily, as he could have received a worse punishment." According to several sources, one of the police officers involved in the beating had been involved in previous cases of abuse of Roma.

ERRC field work revealed that police in Romania often harass Roma who sell goods without administrative permission, extort bribes from Roma, or confiscate the possessions of Romani vendors. In early April 2000, two police officers, one of them in special police force uniform, found Ms O.P., a thirty-year-old Romani woman, and her sister-in-law selling jewellery in the Poşta Vitan region of Bucharest without the required permission to sell goods at this particular place, generally issued by the local mayor's office. According to the testimony Ms O.P. provided to the ERRC on May 13, 2000, the police officers took the women to their car, saying that they were taking them to the police station. During the drive, one of the police officers reportedly subjected them to continuous threats of detention and extremely high fines, and told the women that they could do anything they wanted to them. The terrified women cried and begged to be released. The women offered a bribe, which the police did not consider high enough. The police officers returned the women to the place near where they had picked them up. They then kept one woman hostage while instructing the other to go and bring more money. In the end, the women gave the police officers 350,000 Romanian lei (approximately 20 euros), and the police took all of the jewellery the women had been trying to sell, worth one million lei (approximately 50 euros). The police officer insulted the women and threatened to come to their homes and murder them if they told anyone about the incident. Similar cases of police abuse of Romani street vendors have been reported recently to the ERRC in many localities in Romania. The ERRC was also informed that in some cases in Bucharest the police beat Romani vendors in the markets.

(Adevărul, ERRC, România Liberă)

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