Romani man abused by Belgrade police faces charges for failure to carry identification after officers confiscated his ID

19 December 2023

Police officer and a outlined figure of a man in the background

By Judit Ignácz

On the night of September 13, 2023, a Romani man, let's call him Milan (his name is changed to protect his identity), who had been assisting people in parking their cars near the Museum of Modern Art in Belgrade for the past eight years in exchange for tips was beaten by two uniformed police officers from the Novi Beograd Police Station. The officers confiscated his ID and subjected him to unjustified physical abuse and violence. 

The Night of September 13, 2023

On September 13, 2023, around 23:30 that night, two uniformed police officers from the Police Station Novi Beograd stopped Milan and demanded his ID, which he promptly handed over. However, instead of conducting a routine check, the officers began questioning him about his presence and actions in the parking lot.

This interrogation quickly escalated into violence. One of the police officers kicked him in the back and told him “fuck your mother.” When he pleaded with them not to curse his deceased mother, the situation escalated further. The other officer pinned him down, handcuffed him, and placed him in the patrol car. During the ride to the police station, he endured further physical abuse, with one officer repeatedly hitting him in the face while the other slapped him multiple times.

At the police station, he was detained for approximately 40 minutes, during which the violence continued in the form of repeated slaps to the face. He was presented with a document to sign, the contents of which he was not familiar with, and he did not receive a copy of the document. To worsen the situation, the police officers never returned his ID card.

Medical Examination and Legal Action

On September 14, 2023, Milan sought medical attention at the Emergency Clinic of the University Clinical Centre of Serbia in Belgrade. Medical professionals documented contusions and superficial lesions on the left side of his head, as well as contusions in the eye area.

In response to this horrific incident, the Vojvodina Roma Centre (VRC), in cooperation with the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), filed a complaint with the Sector for Internal Control of the Ministry of Interior. The complaint detailed the police officers' misconduct and requested a thorough investigation. On October 2, 2023, the VRC received a response from the Sector for Internal Control of the Ministry of Interior, stating that the complaint had been forwarded to the Third Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office for further review and to the Police Directorate for the City of Belgrade.

Seeking Justice and Recovery

Despite these actions, Milan’s ID card remained in the possession of the police. In pursuit of justice, he visited the Novi Beograd Police Station on October 4th, 2023, accompanied by supporters, to request the return of his ID card. This visit was emotionally challenging for him, given that it was the same building where he had been abused. The police officers at the reception refused to check whether his ID card was still in their possession, instead reprimanding him for not having his ID for several weeks. They directed him to file a request for a new ID card, which he did, and he obtained it approximately one to two weeks later. 

On October 10, 2023, he received notification from the Misdemeanour Court in Belgrade that a procedure had been initiated against him for failing to carry his ID card on September 13.

The Road to Justice

On November 22, 2023, a hearing took place before the Misdemeanour Court in Belgrade, where Milan stated that he did not commit any offense and provided a detailed description of the events that unfolded on that traumatic night. His attorney requested that the court inform the competent Public Prosecutor’s Office about the allegations of police ill-treatment, with the hope of initiating criminal prosecution against the officers responsible.

The ERRC’s Legal Consultant for Serbia, Andrea Čolak, was present at the hearing and described the confusion and disbelief of the judge upon hearing of the extreme and unprovoked violence from the police officers against the Romani man.

At the hearing, I could observe that for the misdemeanour judge it was difficult to grasp that the police officers’ aggression was random, unprovoked, and utterly unjustified. While for the rest of us who are part of the mainstream society, these things are indeed unimaginable or rare and extreme incidents, unfortunately for many Roma unwarranted police harassment and brutality are common experiences. As in Milan’s case, there was nothing in his actions that necessitated the police officers carry out an identity check, use hostile language, physically constrain, and finally beat Milan. Nothing apart from his ethnicity and marginalisation that made him an easy target for a brutal demonstration of police power. Too often such violence remains ignored and unpunished, and as a result – normalised.” 

Andrea also underlined that the purpose of continuing with the Misdemeanour Court hearing is to make sure that Milan’s allegations of police brutality are put before a judge. Even though the Court is considering a completely different procedure (failure to produce identification), Milan’s allegations push the judge not to ignore his claims but to carry out her legal duty to inform the public prosecutor of the crime reported to her.

The court aims to hear the testimony of the police officers involved in the arrest, and the date of the next hearing is currently pending. Regarding the letter from the Sector for Internal Control of the Ministry of Interior, there is not yet any information available regarding whether the Public Prosecutor's Office or the Belgrade Police have taken any measures in response to the complaint.

It is disheartening to witness instances of abuse of power and mistreatment by those in positions of authority whom we trust to protect and serve us. Milan’s case demonstrates the importance of addressing allegations of police misconduct and ensuring justice is served to anyone who commits hate crimes, police or otherwise. It serves as a reminder that no one should be subjected to unjustified violence or harassment and that the pursuit of justice must remain solid. As the legal process continues, the ERRC will demand that justice prevails and those responsible for this mistreatment are held accountable for their actions.


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