Police Brutality in Slovakia
10 July 2002
The ERRC is herewith reprinting information from the 2001 annual report of the Bratislava-based League of Human Rights Advocates. The original text has been edited somewhat, and updates have been provided.
The League of Human Rights Advocates (LHRA) informed the ERRC that Slovak authorities have brought inadequate charges against public officials and police officers in connection with the July 7, 2001, beating death in police custody of Mr Karol Sendrei Sr. Mr Sendrei Sr. died in the police station in Revúca, central Slovakia, while handcuffed to a radiator after having been severely beaten by Mr Ondrej Hudák Sr., mayor of Magnezitovce, and his son, Officer Ondrej Hudák Jr., at his residence, and later by seven Slovak police officers at the Jelšava County Police Station. His 32-year-old adopted son, Mr Robert Gunár, and 28-year-old son, Mr Peter Sendrei, witnessed the killing and were themselves victims of severe physical abuse at the hands of the Slovak police (for details of the case, see: Slovak officials kill another Rom ).
On August 31, 2001, Mr Ondrej Hudak Sr. was charged in accordance with Slovak Criminal Code Article 222 (1 and 3), for causing bodily harm. Officers Hudák Jr., Miroslav Sisik and Jan Kubej were also charged with offences in connection with the killing. Between September 7 and 12, 2001, investigators from the Banská Bystrica Regional Bureau of Investigation and the Banská Bystrica Prosecutor's Office staged a reconstruction of the incident at the mayor's home, the Jelšava County Police Station and the Revúca Police Station, in which all parties to the incident participated. All witnesses and accused persons were, at this time, permitted to change their initial statements. Many of the witnesses, who had initially testified against Mayor Ondrej Hudák Sr. and the police officers, reportedly retracted their statements.
LHRA reports that on October 8, 2001, following the reconstruction of events, all charges against Mayor Ondrej Hudák Sr. in connection with the killing were dropped. LHRA immediately appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic, and on May 5, 2002, the Supreme Court ordered that the case agaisnt Mayor Ondrej Hudák Sr. be reopened. As of July 15, 2002, investigation into the actions of Mr Hudák Sr. were ongoing. On October 9, 2001, charges against the police officers were increased, and all seven of the officers involved were charged with torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, in connection with the death of Mr Sendrei: Officers Sisik, Kubej, Hudák Jr., Igor Guzak, and Marek Urban were charged in accordance with the Slovak Penal Code Article 259a (1, 2a and 2b, 3 and 4) with torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, undertaken in the capacity of a public official and in a group. Officers Roman Rojak and Ladislav Kiss were charged under Article 259a (1, 2a and 4) with torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in the capacity of a public official. In addition, Officers Sisik and Kubej were charged under Article 158 (1a and 1b) with abuse of power, and Officer Sisik was charged under Article 221 (1a and b) with causing bodily harm. On October 10, 2001, the seven police officers were detained in the region of Banská Bystrica. According to information provided by LHRA, the investigating officers also brought charges against Mr Karol Sendrei Jr., Mr Peter Sendrei, and Mr Robert Gunár for "threats" pursuant to Article 197a.
LHRA informed the ERRC that, on October 18, 2001, the Security and Defense Committee of the Slovak Parliament passed resolution No. 431 of the 75th meeting of the Committee, authorising four members of the committee (Mr Jan Slota, Mr Peter Osvath, Mr Anton Hoffman and Mr Jan Sitek) to "investigate the activities of the investigating police officers", as well as the activities of Dr Columbus Igboanusi of the LHRA. Mr Slota is the head of the extreme right wing True Slovak National Party.
According to LHRA, on November 16, 2001, Officers Hudák Jr, Guzak and Urban were released from police custody on bail. As of July 15, 2002, Officers Sisik, Kubej, Rojak and Kiss were still being held in police custody. All seven of the officers charged in connection with the death of Karol Sendrei Sr. have reportedly been dismissed from the police force.
Cases of police brutality against Roma in Slovakia are frequently reported. A climate of fear exists among many of the victims of this brutality, so many of them choose not to press charges against the police for fear of retribution. The following is a summary of some 2001 cases LHRA has reported:
- September 2001, Revúca: On September 3, 2001, Mr J.B., a 37-year-old Romani man from Revúca, reported that he was interrogated by police between the hours of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, in connection with the burglary of a shop in the district. During the interrogation, he claimed, the police beat him with fists and truncheons and verbally abused him. LHRA noted on September 5, 2001, that signs of manhandling and scars of the wounds were clearly visible on his body. LHRA reported the incident to the director of Revúca Regional Police, who ordered an investigation, and a complaint was subsequently filed against the police. The Banská Bystrica Regional Bureau of Investigation investigated the incident. However, they concluded that there was no evidence to prove that the police had beaten Mr J.B. and the case was closed. LHRA filed an appeal against the decision. On April 15, 2002, they were informed by Mr J.B. that the Revúca District Prosecutor had upheld the decision of the Banská Bystrica Regional Bureau of Investigation on the ground that the actions of the police did not constitute a criminal offence.
- August 2001, Revúca: Milan Grlak, a 15-year-old Romani boy from Revúca, reported to LHRA that, on August 14, 2001, as he was riding his bicycle along the road in the county of Revúca, patrol policemen stopped him, slapped him several times in the face, and then took him to the police station in Revúca. According to the victim, for at least half an hour the police physically and verbally abused him at the police station, calling him a "stinking dirty Gypsy". After two hours, the police released him with the comment that, had he been older, they would have beaten him more. Milan Grlak made his case public in a meeting organised by LHRA on September 5, 2001, at the headquarters of the district office of Revúca. The head of the district police, Colonel Marian Jankovič, participated. Colonel Jankovič requested that Milan Grlak officially file the complaint with his office, where he promised the incident would be effectively investigated. The complaint was filed that same day and, on October 16, 2001, the Revúca District Prosecutor reportedly rejected the complaint on the grounds that the police had used appropriate force.
- July 2001, Diakovce, District of Ĺ al'a: Mr G.S., a Romani man from the village of Diakovce, informed LHRA that he had been arrested and severely beaten by members of the local police as he was waiting for a bus in his village. He stated that he had been taken to the station and repeatedly kicked and hit with fists by police officers. He lost a tooth in the assault. Mr G.S. also stated that he had been given no reason for the arrest. When LHRA requested that Mr G.S. authorise them to file a complaint against the police, he refused, expressing hesitance to take action against the police for fear of retribution.
- June 2001, Revúca: Mr I.T., a 24-year-old Romani man from Revúca, reported that, on June 6, 2001, he and his brother, Mr T.T., were arrested by police and brought to the police station, where they were questioned by officers and severely beaten with truncheons, between the hours of 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Both sustained bodily injuries and were consequently taken by their parents to the hospital for treatment the same day. The medical report prepared by the attending physicians indicated that Mr I.T. had sustained injuries requiring 7-10 days of treatment as a result of being beaten with a hard object. Mr I.T. did not pursue legal action in connection with the case, reportedly after being threatened with violence if he did so.
- June 2001, Bratislava: Ms M.B., a 41-year-old Romani woman from Bratislava, reported having been subjected to verbal and physical assault when she was stopped by policemen on patrol in Bratislava on June 5, 2001. The police officer allegedly dragged her to the police station, where they hit her in the head several times and seized her mobile phone. Ms M.B. reportedly sustained a number of injuries, including torn eyelids and having one of her fingernails ripped out by a policemen. Ms M.B. was indicted for assaulting public officials in violation of Slovak criminal law and sought legal representation from LHRA. With the assistance of the organisation, she filed a complaint against the police officers for abuse of the power of a public officer. On July 16, 2002, LHKA reported that according to Ms M.B., the charge of assault against her had been dropped and she had been convicted of a minor crime, for which she had paid a fine of 500 Slovak crowns (approximately 11 euros). As of this date, there had been no action on the complaint Ms M.B. had filed against the police officers.
- June 2001, District of VelkĂ˝ Krtíš: On June 4, 2001, at approximately 4:00 PM, private security agents of a company in VelkĂ˝ Krtíš arrested Mr J.S., a 20-year-old Romani man from the District of VelkĂ˝ Krtíš, and his 17-year-old brother, S.S., on suspicion of stealing. Both men claim that they were unlawfully detained and tortured. For approximately 12 hours, the security agents reportedly hit the two men with fists and iron bars and kicked them, after first locking them up in a room, in order to force their confession to the crime. The security agents then allegedly handed the suspects over to the local police. Contrary to the criminal procedure of the Slovak Republic, S.S., a minor, was reportedly interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or legal guardian. The brothers claim that during this interrogation they were again beaten severely and forced to sign a false statement, confessing to the crime. Medical reports indicate that J.S. suffered a broken jaw and S.S. suffered a concussion. On July 27, 2001, Mr J.S. and S.S. filed a complaint with the District Prosecutor's Office. On April 5, 2002, LHRA reported that the District Prosecutor had rejected the complaint on the grounds that it was unfounded.
- March 2001, Jelšava: On March 26, 2001, at approximately 5:00 PM, Mr M.S., a 22-year-old Romani man, was arrested by members of the county police of Jelšava on suspicion of theft. He reports that, during interrogation in the Jelšava Police Station, he was severely beaten and forced to confess to the crime. When he arrived home at around 9:30 PM the same evening, he collapsed. His parents rushed him to the hospital in Revúca, where he was diagnosed with a minor concussion as a result of the assault and treated by the physicians on duty. Mr M.S. reported the incident to the LHRA and requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution if a complaint were filed against the policemen who had physically assaulted him. Mr M.S. has refused to pursue the case.
- October 2000, near Bratislava: On October 16, 2000, Mr P.K., a 22-year-old Romani man from the village of Senec, Mr L.B., a 29-year-old non-Romani man from the village of Bernolakovo, and Mr I.F., a 35-year-old non-Romani man also from Bernolakovo, were arrested by members of the Rapid Response Police Force on suspicion of extortion. The same day, they were handed over to police detectives in a town near Bratislava, who pressured them to confess to committing the crime. The three men claim that the police pulled them by their hair and beat them for several hours, hitting them with fists and truncheons, and kicking them repeatedly. The men also report being verbally abused, called "dirty Gypsies," and being threatened with death. A complaint was filed by the legal representatives of the three men against the police. The complaint was rejected and the case was closed. LHRA filed a counter motion with the Bratislava 1 Public Prosecutor, against the decision of the police and the Public Prosecutor opened an investigation into the case. On November 13, 2001, the appeal of LHRA was rejected by the Public Prosecutor, on the grounds that the police had used appropriate force. As of July 15, 2002, the three men remained in police custody.