Hajdúhadház, Hungary, March 1999

07 July 1999

Hajdúhadház is a town in eastern Hungary, approximately 20 kilometres from the city of Debrecen. Hajdúhadház is home to approximately 13,000 persons, around 3000 of whom are Roma. Like in many towns in eastern Hungary, the local economy has ground virtually to a standstill and Roma are particularly affected by unemployment and poverty. Local relations between the Roma and non-Roma have degenerated to the point of intense hostility. In Autumn 1998, the town became known nationally when a local schoolteacher attacked Romani students with a knife.

The ERRC first visited Hajdúhadház in September 1997 and documented instances of police brutality against Romani individuals at that time (see "Testimony", Roma Rights, Autumn 1997). Since then, the situation - especially in terms of relations between Roma and the police - appears to have either remained as critical or worsened. On March 14 and 15, 1999, the ERRC documented recent instances of alleged police brutality against Romani individuals. Additionally, four individuals - three of them Romani and one a non-Romani man - recently gave accounts of their experiences with the police in Hajdúhadház on a nationally televised documentary program aired in Hungary on the evening of March 11, 1999. According to the testimony of Romani and non-Romani individuals in Hajdúhadház, the police now appear to be intent on taking revenge against persons who spoke about their experiences on the program.

The ERRC conducted interviews with three Romani men, all of whom independently alleged that they and one other Romani man had been physically abused and their ethnicity insulted on March 6, March 8, March 9 and March 10, while they were in detention in connection with a reported break-in on the night of March 5, 1999. According to testimony provided to the ERRC by 21-year-old Mr A.R., his brother 19-year-old Mr Z.R., and their cousin, 15-year-old L.H., police conducted house searches on the morning of March 6 in two flats occupied by three men and their relatives. During these searches, police impounded a pair of boots. The same morning, police officers detained the three men. A fourth Romani man in their family, 19-year-old Mr D.R., reportedly turned himself into the police shortly thereafter, after hearing a rumour that police were looking for him.

In the subsequent hours, three police officers whose names are known to the ERRC physically abused the four Roma concerned during successive periods lasting fifteen minutes to half an hour in which they were interrogated independently. The officers also insulted the ethnic origins of the men while interrogating them. They were apparently attempting to extract a confession from them to a break-in which had occurred the night before in a local shop. The four men were released without being charged at approximately four in the afternoon on Saturday March 6, but told to return on Monday March 8 at seven in the morning. They were subsequently interrogated on March 8, March 9 and March 10. On all three days, officers physically abused and insulted them. Their allegations include the following:

Officer S.N. reportedly pushed A.R. face first into the seat of a chair. He reportedly struck A.R. in the head with his fist. Another officer, Mr I.N., allegedly punched A.R. in the mouth, causing his mouth to bleed. His subsequent request to be allowed to go to the bathroom to wash the blood from his mouth was refused. I.N. also reportedly punched A.R. in the stomach and slapped him repeatedly. Officers called A.R. a "dirty Gypsy" and uttered a range of profanities about his relatives.

Police officer I.N. reportedly knelt on the thigh of Z.R., causing pain by pressing his knee into Z.R.'s thigh. He additionally struck Z.R.'s head against a wall, causing it to swell. He also stabbed Z.R. on the top of his head with a set of keys and kicked Z.R. on the knees and ankles. Officers slapped Z.R. repeatedly. Officers called Z.R. a "stinking Gypsy", said obscene things about his relatives and told him "not to Gypsy", by which they meant "Don't lie".

15-year-old L.H., a minor, was also interrogated on March 6, March 8, March 9 and March 10. He told the ERRC that he was physically abused on March 6. Officer S.N. struck him twice across the mouth with his open hand. He was not physically abused on subsequent days. Officers did not inform his legal guardian of his detention, in contravention of Hungarian law. On March 8, his father came to the police station while he was being interrogated but was not allowed into the interrogation room, in contravention of Hungarian law.

On March 10, while all four men were being photographed by police in a courtyard in back of the police station, officers paraded a dog amongst them and approximately ten other Romani men who had been detained, encouraging the dog to snap at them. None of the men were bitten. Officer I.N. allegedly walked behind the Romani men with a pair of scissors, pretending to cut their hair. Officer I.N. also suggested to A.R. that he jump on the upturned prongs of a garden rake in the courtyard. A.R. did not do so.

On all four days, the interrogations were audible to the other men, who were made to wait either in the hall outside the interrogation room, or in a detention cell. L.H. told the ERRC that he signed a two-page text on March 8 which he did not read and which was not read to him. A.R. and Z.R. told the ERRC that they did not sign any statements. None of the Romani men have been informed whether or not charges have been brought against them. During the week, Romani relatives of the four men were threatened with beating when they stated their intention of filing a complaint about police ill-treatment.

On March 15, the ERRC interviewed 16-year-old Attila Rezes concerning an incident of police brutality in Hajdúhadház which almost cost him his life. At approximately 8:00 pm on January 11, according to his testimony, Mr Rezes was walking home from a local video shop with a friend of his when a police car approached them at high speed. Two officers not known to Mr Rezes got out of the car, threw Mr Rezes and his friend to the ground and repeatedly kicked and struck them with rubber truncheons. Officers struck Mr Rezes a number of times in the head.

Officers then ordered the two men to stand and handcuffed them. Mr Rezes told the ERRC that he felt dizzy as he stood. Officers then allegedly forced his friend to get into the trunk of the car, while Mr Rezes was put in the back seat of the police car with a non-Romani man in a leather jacket whom he did not know. The two Romani men were brought to the police station in Hajdúhadház where they were made to stand facing a wall. Officers warned them not to touch the wall, and various officers struck Mr Rezes several times for disobeying this order.

Approximately half an hour later, the two men were reportedly brought together into an interrogation room and interrogated in connection with an incident in which the window of a shop was broken. During the interrogation, officers reportedly struck Mr Rezes with their fists and with truncheons on his head, legs and shins, approximately ten times. At around 12:30 am, Mr Rezes was released from custody. He was not asked to sign any documents and he was not charged with any crime.

Upon arriving home, Mr Rezes felt ill. He told the ERRC that he had asked his father for an aspirin and went to bed. He reportedly remembers little after arriving home. His father, Mr Imre Rezes, told the ERRC that he did not wake up the next day.

On January 13, his father brought him to hospital, where he was admitted and diagnosed as having intra-cranial haematomae. A medical protocol issued subsequently documents a three centimetre long wound on the left side of his head. He was successfully operated on the same day. He remained in hospital for approximately twelve days. He was released while still in pain and subsequently had difficulty speaking.

The Hajdú-Bihar County Prosecutor's Office opened investigation into police conduct in connection with the incident shortly thereafter. Mr Rezes has been interrogated three or four times by an official from the prosecutor's office, the first time in Debrecen, and later in the office of the local government in Hajdúhadház. The most recent such hearing took place on March 16. Two officers were reportedly detained in connection with the incident in late January. One was released shortly thereafter, while a second spent approximately one month in detention.

On March 12, the television channel RTL-Klub, seen nationally in Hungary, broadcast an episode of the documentary program Fókusz, in which they featured allegations of police brutality in Hajdúhadház. Attila Rezes was featured with his face and name broadcast in full, and three other individuals were shown with their faces obscured.

Since the March 12 broadcast, police officers have reportedly expended intense effort to discover the identities of the three persons shown on the Fókusz program. On Saturday, March 13, one of the men, a non-Romani man named József Vass was detained by police, allegedly in connection with the March 5 theft described above. Officers conducted a house search in which they confiscated items including two bars of chocolate, a package of tea and cosmetic products including shampoo. Mr Vass alleges that he was physically abused in police custody and that officers stated that they should treat him "specially", since he had appeared on "that television program". Mr Vass was told to report to police at 7:00 am on March 16. The ERRC engaged a lawyer to accompany Mr Vass to the interrogation, but he was reportedly not let into the interrogation room, in contravention of Hungarian law. In late morning, Mr Vass was released, but following the departure of his lawyer, he was reportedly detained near the police station, taken back into custody and physically abused.

The other two men who appeared on the Fókusz program, both of whom are Romani, went into hiding because they feared retaliatory action by police.

On March 17, journalists from the Fókusz program returned to Hajdúhadház and accompanied Mr Vass and Mr Imre Rezes, the brother of Attila Rezes and one of the Romani individuals who had appeared on the March 12 Fókusz programme, to a pub known to be frequented by police officers. In the presence of a hidden television camera, officers assaulted and physically abused Mr Vass. The incident was broadcast on the television station RTL-Klub on March 18. In the broadcast, individuals identified by the two youths as police officers responsible for earlier incidents of police brutality visibly punch Mr Vass three times in the face. Mr Vass suffered a bloody nose and other facial injuries in the assault.

Roma in Hajdúhadház state that police brutality in the town is endemic. One 21-year-old Romani man interviewed by the ERRC stated that he had been physically abused three times by the police and that he personally knew of ninety or one hundred instances in which police officers assaulted Roma. According to information made available to the ERRC, one officer from Hajdúhadház has previously been sentenced in connection with an instance of abuse in which he broke the ribs of a Romani man outside a discotheque in 1994 or 1995. The officer concerned, whose name is known to the ERRC, was reportedly given an eight-month sentence. He allegedly paid a fine of 24,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 100 euros) and did not serve time in prison. He is reportedly still an active member of the police force. The Hajdú-Bihar County prosecutor's office told the ERRC that in 1998, proceedings had been opened against 45 police officers, 15 of whom work in Hajdúhadház. All of the cases are still before the courts or have resulted in acquittal.



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