THE NITRA police are under fire after about 30 tactical unit officers raided a concert in Nitra, attacking the flute player onstage and causing at least two women to collapse, according to the owner of the concert venue.
Police claimed they invaded the Naozzay club in Nitra on November 3 during a concert by a famous Czech art-rock band, Votchi, because they suspected extremists were inside the club.
Flute player Libor Barto was smashed in the mouth during the raid.
"We did not react immediately, as we did not notice the armed men at first," bandleader Mirek Mužík told the Sme daily. "We were blinded by the spotlights, the fog machine was on, and we were wearing earphones.
"All of a sudden, I saw blood dripping from Libor's lip. They knocked the flute out of his mouth with the butt of a machine gun."
"I usually play with my eyes closed, so I noticed the whole situation at the moment when the policeman hit me in the mouth," Barto, who also lectures at Charles University in Prague, told the TA3 TV news channel.
According to the Nitra Region police head Ján Štark, Barto was attacked because he did not stop playing, in spite of several loud warnings that this was a police operation.
He said Barto's lip was cut when police pushed aside his flute. But club owner and concert organiser Igor Haváč disputed that claim.
"I saw the butt of the machine gun with my own eyes," he said. "I was only half a metre away."
Police offered to take Barto for medical treatment but he refused, Štark said.
Two women in the club also collapsed during the raid, including a 50-year-old from Prague, Haváč told The Slovak Spectator.
He is suing the police over the incident.
"It is simply a shame," he said.
Police sought extremists
The raid was related to an incident at another Nitra club a month earlier, Štark said.
Young extremists reportedly injured the drummer of a Czech punk band, The Fialky, outside the Stará Pekáreň club in Nitra. This case is still under investigation, but the police have charged six men from the Nitra area with rowdiness.
Police had information that more violence was expected at the Naozzay club the night of the Votchi concert, Štark said.
"In order to prevent this, we came to check this club," he said.
No such violence happened that night, he added, but police conducted the raid in compliance with the law.
The Interior Ministry is investigating the incident. Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the media that police acted appropriately.
"The police do not want to have 21,400 blame-shifting officers, who approach citizens with the intention of doing everything possible for their security, but because they are afraid making a mistake, they prefer to do nothing," he said.
"I cannot force police officers to ask, if a car is being stolen, 'Hey, sorry, did you forget the keys inside? Does the car happen to be yours? Has the car owner given you a permission to open it with a wire?'"
He also said a band was attacked during a concert at Naozzay several weeks ago, but Haváč said there have been no violent incidents in the club for at least three years.
Club employees also offered to co-operate with police, Haváč said.
"We offered to switch off the sound and turn on the lights in the auditorium so they could do the search," he said. "But they eagerly got ahead of us. They ran onto the stage and smashed the flutist's lips with the butt of the machine gun, just to make him stop playing.
"It was a very aggressive crackdown, which I consider not only unnecessary, but also stupid."
The Interior Ministry investigation should take about 30 days, ministry spokesperson Silvia Miháliková told The Slovak Spectator. Until then, the ministry will not comment on the case, she said.
The former head of the Anti-corruption Police Department, Jozef Šátek, wrote on his blog that the police operation was unnecessary.
"In particular, its forceful, aggressive manner, the unnecessary interference in civil rights and freedoms, and the suspected illegal use of some coercive measures lead to the suspicion that crimes were committed: the abuse of the authority of public servants, inflicting physical injury, and disorderly conduct," he wrote.
But the biggest loss from the failed police action was another blow to citizens' trust in the Nitra police, and the mental trauma inflicted on the audience, he wrote.
12. Nov 2007 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná