Police violence against Roma in Yugoslavia
03 October 2000
On August 3, 2000, and again on August 7, 2000, Mr Saša Mustafić, a nineteen-year-old Romani man, was allegedly apprehended by the police, interrogated for theft and severely beaten in police c ustody in Belgrade. On the second occasion, the police allegedly also detained, interrogated and threatened his wife, Ms Demira Gezvira, a 29-year-old Romani woman who was pregnant at the time. According to interviews carried out by the ERRC, on August 3, 2000, around noon, Mr Mustafić was approached by four policemen in plain clothes, in Ljeska Street in Belgrade, where he lives. Mr Mustafić reported that without explanation, the policemen started to beat him, punching him in the back, kicking him in the r ibs and slapping his face. Then they handcuffed him and drove him to the Cukarica precinct police station. At the station, Mr Mustafić was first put into a cell, and then taken to a room where the same four policemen accused him of breaking into an apartm ent and stealing some items. He denied knowledge of this robbery, and the policemen allegedly began to punch him in the ribs and belly and to insult his ethnic origin. They then questioned him about a handbag containing money and documents which had been stolen from a tobacconist shop near his home. When he denied knowledge of this theft, they allegedly accused him of lying, continued to insult him, and beat him with a stick on the arms, lower back and head. Then one of the police officers allegedly threaten ed to circumcise him and grabbed a pair of pliers and a knife. At that point, the phone rang and that officer left the room. The other officers continued to beat him, and then left him in a cell for about half an hour. Then Mr Mustafić was taken back to t he interrogation room where, he stated, the same four officers and an additional ten officers continued to question him about the handbag, and to punch him in the stomach, ribs, back, and head. After about ten minutes of beating they returned him to the cel l, and after about an hour, at around 5:00 PM, the officers released him, saying that probably his wife had stolen the bag. Ms Gevzira, Mr Mustafić's wife, told the ERRC that upon his return from the police station, Mr Mustafić had contusions on his back, his left arm was swollen, and he had a wound on the back of his head. He was unable to eat for two days. Mr Mustafić did not go to a doctor, fearing he would be taken to the police station again.
Mr Mustafić and his wife told the ERRC that on August 7, at about 8:00 AM, two police officers in plain clothes came to their house. The officers first told Mr Mustafić not to put on his shoes, but to come with them barefoot. Then they changed their minds, and told him to stay at home while they took his wife to t h e station, saying that they would interrogate her. Approximately half an hour later the two police officers came and took Mr Mustafić to the station as well. At the police station, Mr Mustafić and Ms Gezvira were questioned by officers in separate rooms, and each was asked where they had obtained 20 German marks confiscated during their arrest. Both replied that they had earned the money selling old items at a flea market. The same four police officers from the previous occasion interrogated and beat Mr Mus tafić, and then put him into a cell for an hour. Ms Gezvira told the ERRC that at the station she was questioned by four police officers in plain clothes about the missing handbag. When she denied knowledge of the handbag, they told her she was lying and threatened to send her to the county jail. The police yelled at her, allegedly threatened to beat her until she lost her baby, and also made lewd sexual suggestions. The policemen also told Ms Gezvira that they would beat her husband in front of her. They then put her into a cell for about half an hour. The officers next brought Ms Gezvira to the room where her husband was, asked both of them once again about the handbag, and then returned their documents and released them, at around 2:00 PM. Mr Gezvira told the ERRC that when they left the police station she observed new bruises on her husband's back and swellings on his head.
Several days later, Ms Gevzira saw one of the police officers who had interrogated her, in Ljeska Street. She asked if they had found the thief, and he replied that they had. She asked why they had treated her and her husband so badly, and the officer allegedly laughed and told her to go home. Ms Gezvira went to the Cukarica precinct police station and complained to the chief inspector, who apologised and told her that he would punish the officers responsible. As of October 9, 2000, the ERRC intended to file a complaint against the police officers on behalf of Mr Mustafić.
(ERRC, Humanitarian Law Center)