Slovakia: Mayor and Romani residents say police brutalized them, police deny it
Approximately 200 - 300 Romani people gathered on 3 April outside the local authority in the municipality of Vrbnica (Michalovce District) to protest a police intervention that took place during a house-to-house search there on Thursday, 2 April code-named "100". Mayor Jaroslav Tokár held a press conference to report that several people had been injured during what he said was a brutal police intervention.
Police reject that characterization of the incident. The mayor has called on the Slovak Interior Minister to review the entire intervention, the Slovak media report.
Mayor: I was almost attacked by police
"My wife called me to say that police officers were beating up local Romani people. I was at the office at the time, so I immediately ran home. A police officer with a dog entered my yard. When I told him I was the mayor, this young officer said he wasn't interested in that," the mayor described, adding that he saw officers pushing several residents of the settlement against a wall and kicking their legs.
The mayor says officers beat up as many as 19 Romani people in the municipality, injuring about 10 of them. "They were mainly bruised. I was almost attacked by them, and I'm the mayor," said Tokár.
The mayor also said Romani people from the municipality have never had serious problems with the police and he does not understand why the officers proceeded the way they did. "There were Romani people injured who are municipal employees, they have activation jobs. It happened during business hours. We will consult with a lawyer and consider what to do next," he said.
The press conference was also attended by the chair of the Romani Union of Slovakia Party (SRUS), František Tanko, who said police had no reason to intervene so brutally in Vrbnica. He wants to meet with the Slovak Interior Minister about the incident.
"We have agreed that on 9 April we will organize a public protest between 13:00 and 14:00 in front of the Michalovce District Police Directorate," said Tanko. The Roma are planning to invite Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for the Roma Community Peter Pollák, the Interior Minister, and the Slovak ombud to attend as well.
Roma say officers put guns to their heads
Romani residents who were beaten gave emotional interviews to the ROMED television station. "They beat our heads, my father is hospitalized, they kicked him in the crotch," one resident told ROMED.
"My arm is broken, they wanted to hit my kid too," another victim said. "They kicked in all our doors. I asked what they were doing there, and he came over and slapped me. He shouted 'Shut up you whore!' at my wife," reported another victim.
"They put pistols to our heads, I had to hide my children under the bed," was how one woman described the moments of horror. "They took us out into a field and told us they were going to shoot all the Gypsies," a male victim reported.
The Romani residents reportedly called ambulances, but none ever arrived. "I must have called eight times and told them the officers were beating us up and we needed help. My wife is ill. They told me to put her in the car and bring her in," another resident said.
Police: No injuries were incurred, the action was successful
The police's official explanation is that they were performing a maneuver code-named "100" on Thursday. They said similar raids took place in all districts of the Košice Region.
"This action was performed intentionally at this time of year because we know people go back home ahead of the holiday, especially those who have long been abroad and who might be wanted persons. During this region-wide action, a total of 46 problematic localities were searched where we had information that wanted persons might be. During the action seven persons were tracked down and five were taken in to the police force's basic unit," said the Regional Police Director in Košice, Juraj Leško.
Leško said officers transferred the five persons to prison when the action was finished. He claims force was used in only two cases, both in the village of Kapušianske Kľačany.
According to the police director, some people there refused to identify themselves and attempted to flee, which is why officers used force. He said there were no injuries, or that at least none had been reported to him, that no one had officially complained about the officers' procedures, and that no criminal report had been filed against the police, according to news server Pravda.sk.
The person sought by police in the municipality of Vrbnica was reportedly ultimately apprehended elsewhere. Leško said he considers the entire action successful.
The police director has ruled out the possibility that the officers might have perpetrated brutality. He has objected to the Romani residents' claims to the contrary.
Pollák: Intervention must be investigated, officers should use cameras
Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for the Roma Community Peter Pollák is asking that the police raid in the municipality of Vrbnica be investigated by the Audit Section and Inspection Services of the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General with respect to its lawfulness, legitimacy, and proportionality. Pollák will also be asking for a police report on the course of the raid and will initiate a meeting with the leadership of the Slovak Police once again regarding the adoption of measures to make sure there are no doubts about the justification for or proportionality of the use of force by police.
Pollák made the announcement on his website. He said he would also be initiating a legislative amendment that would require officers to use a camera system during special forces interventions or to require that they produce audio and video recordings of such raids.
"If video technology were to be used during police interventions, we would not have to argue about whether a particular one was lawful, whether rights were violated, whether mistreatment was perpetrated and which side made what errors. Video recordings would benefit not just citizens, but also officers," he said.
SELECTED PROBLEMATIC POLICE INTERVENTIONS AGAINST ROMANI PEOPLE IN SLOVAKIA
August 1999 - A 21-year-old Romani man dies after a police interrogation as a result of a gunshot wound to the abdomen. According to the official version of events, the man grabbed a detective's pistol and shot himself during interrogation at a police station in Poprad. The case made it to the European Court of Human Rights 11 years later thanks to the efforts of the young man's widow.
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 an 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.
9 May 2010 - After a riot unit intervention in Tornal'a during the annual celebrations there to honor the victims of the Second World War, a 46-year-old Romani man died of suffocation after police officers allegedly used a disproportionate amount of teargas against him. According to witnesses, officers beat and kicked the man.
16 June 2012 - A former municipal police officer in Hurbanovo, southern Slovakia, shot a 44-year-old man, the man's son and the man's father-in-law with a weapon he was not licensed to use. Another son of the main victim survived a gunshot through the lung and his wife suffered a leg injury during the incident. The ex-officer said he wanted to "solve the problem of inadaptable inhabitants" by shooting them.
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.
2 April 2015 - Police officers allegedly beat up approximately 19 Romani people in the municipality of Vrbnica, Michalovce District, during a house-to-house search code-named "100". Medical attention was sought by 10 residents.
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