Romanian chief of local police filmed beating handcuffed Romani men as they lie on the ground
Human rights organizations have published an open letter calling on the President of Romania to fire the Internal Affairs Minister. The reason is an incident in which police in the south of the country assaulted a group of Romani men as they were lying on the ground.
News server BalkanInsight.com reports that the assault was captured on video and Romanian news server Libertatea published it online last Thursday, calling the footage an "image typical of a country governed by a military junta". News server Romea.cz is publishing the open letter in full below.
The footage shows Romanian police officers walking among the Romani men who are prone on the ground while one officer repeatedly beats one of the men with a truncheon. The blows of the truncheon and the man's howling can be heard on the audio track.
The officers in the footage shout "Stay home!" and a great deal of vulgar abuse as well. The video has sparked strong resistance from many human rights activists in Romania.
The short video was filmed during the police intervention in the courtyard of a privately-owned building in the town of Bolintin-Vale in Giurgiu Province in the south. According to BalkanInsight.com, the man in plainclothes beating the man lying face down on the ground is said to be the Chief of Police of Bolintin-Vale.
Currently that officer is no longer on duty and a criminal prosecution has begun against him. Two NGOs involved with defending the rights of Romani people in Romania, the Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies (Romani CRISS) and the Civic Union of Young Roma in Romania (UCTRR), have jointly called on Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to fire Romanian Internal Affairs Minister Marcek Vela and his Chief of Staff, Traian Berbeceanu.
According to BalkanInsight.com, Berbeceanu recently said police should respond to violence by using force themselves. The NGOs accuse Vela and his subordinates of "instigating the Romanian police to commit violent acts against their own citizens" and present a list of cases in which police are said to have abused their powers after the President announced a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on 16 March.
OPEN LETTER: THE ROLE OF THE POLICE IS TO APPLY THE LAW, NOT TO BEAT AND KILL THE CITIZENS!
Bucharest, 23rd of April 2020
To: President of Romania, Klaus Werner Iohannis
To: Romanian Government Att.: Prime Minister of Romania, Ludovic Orban
The signatory non-governmental organizations, Romani CRISS – Roma Centre for Social Intervention and Studies and UCTRR – Civic Union of Young Roma from Romania request the immediate dismissal of Mr. Marcel Vela – Minister of Internal Affairs and of Mr. Traian Berbeceanu – the Chief of Staff of Mr. Vela, on the grounds of irresponsible behaviour, disastrous management and instigation of the Romanian police to committing violent acts against their own citizens.
During the recent period, in the context of the emergency situation declared by the Romanian authorities, many incidents took place in local communities, both communities with a large number of Roma, as well as in Romanian communities.
In the case of Hunedoara - the Micro 6 block, several people (both Roma and Romanians) denounced that they were beaten by the police as "revenge" following a previous confrontation. Publicly available footage shows a man being beaten by special forces inside a block of flats, on the stairwell, and a 14-year-old child is violently abused near the block. Police entered many homes without a warrant, used tear gas indoors, including against women and minor children (one child was 11 years old). Two men were beaten by special forces when they wanted to file a complaint against these abuses.
In the case from Rahova - Bucharest, a person known publicly as "Spartacus" posted a video to his Facebook page in which he apologizes to the Police for previous events and in which he appears with a swollen face. The conditions under which his injuries occurred are not clear, nor is it clear how he was able to make the post on Facebook, given that he was in pre-trial detention at the time. The posting of this video somehow implies the desire of the police officers involved in the “Spartacus” case to humiliate him by forcing him to apologize publicly. Moreover, "Spartacus" has been ridiculed by the Europol Union of the Romanian Police on their Facebook page. Several people, including minors from the Rahova neighbourhood, complained they had been beaten by police, who allegedly entered a home at the wrong address (looking for "Spartacus") and later left apologizing for the confusion.
In the case from Bolintin-Vale, Giurgiu County, it is clearly noticeable, in the footage available in the mass media, how the police brutally hit several Roma men while they were already handcuffed, lying on the ground, and screaming from the pain. The police officer accuses them of speaking in the Romany language and streaming live shows on the Internet. Many Roma children are now sleeping in the fields and are in hiding for fear of police abuse.
Mr. Marcel Vela, Minister of Internal Affairs, has mishandled the current crisis from one end to the other. After expressing the desire to use police as a courier of the Romanian Orthodox Church during the Easter holidays, which would irresponsibly expose the population to the particularly destructive effects of COVID-19, the Minister of Internal Affairs then relapsed and supported the abuses committed by the police against Romanian citizens, explicitly against Roma citizens (but not exclusively).
Mr. Traian Berbeceanu, his Chief of Staff, clearly presented the ministry's approach by publicly stating that "violence must be met with violence." Such an approach is inadmissible in a state governed by the rule of law and blatantly violates human rights principles.
In this logic of promoting violence, instigated from the higher levels of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the acts presented above are easier to understand. At the highest echelons, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, under the incompetent and irresponsible leadership of Marcel Vela and Traian Berbeceanu, has actively promoted the escalation of violence and instigated police officers to beat citizens. Which they did. They did it in Bucharest, where a man was fatally shot, they did it in Bolintin-Vale, where the footage shows serious acts of torture, and they will probably continue to do so, if you, Esteemed Mr. President and Esteemed Mr. Prime Minister, will not intervene to dismiss these two persons from the command of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
As you know, Romania has requested derogations from the application of the European Convention on Human Rights, based on Article 15, during the state of emergency. The signatory organizations are utterly dismayed by these serious abuses committed by the police during this period and by the open instigations to violence coming from the top leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We refuse to believe Romania has requested these derogations in order to allow or facilitate these serious abuses against its own citizens, and for this very reason we have all confidence that, unlike the Minister of Internal Affairs and his Chief of Staff, you, as head of the Romanian state and of the executive power, respectively, will immediately take the necessary measures to stop these abuses, thus promoting a climate of legality and responsibility in our society.
During this difficult period - all the more so at such a time - the police must stay close to the citizens, support the population, and apply the law objectively. The role of the police in a society is to enforce the law, and when certain persons engage in illegal conduct, the police have the role of intervening to pacify them and bring them to justice in order to implement legal measures. Nowhere in the country's Constitution (nor in the relevant legislation) does it say that the police should promote violence, beat up handcuffed citizens, violently aggress minor children, shoot people dead, or torture their fellow citizens for speaking their mother tongue.
In conclusion, we inform you that we will also notify the competent judicial bodies regarding the reported issues, but we reiterate our respectful request to immediately dismiss both the Minister of Internal Affairs and his Chief of Staff and to appoint new persons in charge of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who will promote the application of the current Romanian law and not the law of the “fists and violence”.
In the hope that you will answer our request, please receive, dear gentlemen, the expression of our most distinguished salutations.
Mandache Costică Marian, Executive Director, Romani CRISS
Iuonas Norbert, President, UCTRR
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