Slovakia: Scandalous verdict acquits police of torturing Romani children
Yesterday a court in Slovakia acquitted all 10 current and former police officers who faced prosecution for abusing Romani children at a police station. The police filmed their humiliation of the children using their mobile phones and shared the footage.
The court, however, refused to allow the recordings, which were the prosecutor's main evidence, to be submitted, saying the footage had been illegally obtained. The prosecutor has appealed the Košice District Court's ruling, according to the Slovak media.
"The evidence is not sufficient to find the defendants guilty, nor to express a conclusion beyond the shadow of a doubt that the crime took place as the prosecutor alleges," the presiding justice stated. According to the indictment, police brought six boys between the ages of 11 and 15 into the station in 2009 on suspicion of having injured and robbed and older woman, where they shouted abuse at them, then forced them to strip and beat each other up.
The boys reportedly also had to carry out other police orders that were part of the bullying. Ten officers were charged with abusing the powers of a public official and some were additionally charged with extortion.
The officers, nine men and one woman, faced many years in prison if convicted. During the investigation they denied culpability and refused to testify in court.
Attorney: The court's decision is unlawful
According to the attorney for the Romani boys, the court's decision is unlawful. "The decision of the court is a genuine disappointment to me. It seems that Slovak justice is unable to guarantee an effective access to justice even in the most prominent, unambiguous cases of cruel and inhuman treatment in our society. The courts have been unable to effectively protect citizens from serious misconduct by units of state repression such as the police, which I consider alarming. I believe the appeals court will overturn this decision on the basis of the prosecutor's appeal and that the victims will not ultimately have to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to get justice," commented Vanda Durbáková, the attorney for the victims who works with the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Slovakia.
Durbáková said the reasons given by the court for rejecting the recordings as evidence are irrelevant. "The audio and video recordings capturing this incident are, in my opinion, lawful evidence and there was nothing preventing the court from introducing them into evidence during the main hearing. The fact that the person who recorded the footage has not been identified is irrelevant with respect to ensuring an effective approach to justice in this matter, and the fact that the footage is not a single coherent recording is also irrelevant, I cannot agree with the court's ruling in this matter," she said.
Peter Pollák, the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Community Affairs, agrees with the prosecutor appealing the verdict. He believes the bullying of the Romani children did take place.
"I have personally seen the video footage from this case. The police bullied those boys, which is why I appreciate the fact that the prosecutor will appeal this verdict. I condemn such practices. We must judge everyone by the same standards, and I condemn all criminal activity, whether it is committed by a police officer or a Romani person," Pollák said.
SELECTED PROBLEMATIC POLICE INTERVENTIONS AGAINST ROMANI PEOPLE IN SLOVAKIA
6 July 2001 - At a police station in the Central Slovakian town of Revúca, several police officers beat a 51-year-old Romani man, Karol Sendrei, so brutally that he died as a result of his injuries. Seven police officers were charged in the case and released six months later. Four of them were then convicted and given sentences ranging from four to eight and a half years in prison.
21 March 2009 - Police officers in Košice detained six Romani boys aged 10 -15 after they allegedly injured and robbed and older woman. At the police station, under the threat of corporal punishment and a constant torrent of verbal abuse, the police forced the boys to kiss each other, slap each other, and strip naked. The scenes of humiliation were recorded using a mobile telephone. Nine police officers were fired in connection with the crime. On 27 February 2015 all 10 of the current or former police officers prosecuted in connection with the crime were acquitted.
19 June 2013 - Ten police officers and riot police occupied the Romani settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou during the evening. Officers were allegedly looking for wanted persons there. Shortly after the police raid, however, occupants of the settlement claimed the officers broke into their homes for no reason, attacking children and women and reportedly using stun guns and tear gas.
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