A report by the European Commission's committee for the prevention of torture (CPT) claims Slovak police use unjustified force on crime suspects.
The CPT, whose five members visited Slovak police establishments around the country between October 8 and 19 last year, claimed that the main form of ill-treatment its authors discovered was physical assault immediately following arrest and during police questioning, involving "kicks and blows with fists, batons and other objects".
The Slovak cabinet discussed the report and scripted its response to the CPT document at its October 10, 2001 session. The government said it considered the CPT's findings and recommendations "important and stimulating" and promised to adopt corrective measures suggested by the CPT.
The CPT's 62-page report lists a series of alleged incidents of police brutality.
"One person interviewed stated that, in August 2000, while being interrogated at Staré Mesto-Východ police station in Bratislava, police officers had struck him on various parts of the body and that he had lost consciousness as a result of a blow with a blunt object to the back of the head. He also alleged that a police officer had stepped on the back of his legs after he had been made to kneel facing the wall," the report says.
"Another person alleged that at the time of his arrest and once he had been brought under control and handcuffed, he had been made to lie on the floor and police officers had kicked him on the sides of the chest; he also claimed that a police officer had stepped on his head."
Similar allegations were disclosed to the committee during their visit to eastern Slovakia's Košice.
"Two further persons arrested in August 2000 in Košice claimed that they had been beaten by police officers, including with wooden bats found in the detainees' own car."
In its response, the cabinet explained the latter case.
"These persons belonged to a group known to be a part of the criminal underworld and to carry arms; subsequent search of the vehicle revealed baseball bats, firearms and a hand grenade under car seats. The people sitting in the car did not obey the warning issued by police officers who arrived at the scene."
Police officers, the cabinet explained, therefore used restraining methods to control the suspects in keeping with the law; police investigators later said that the methods used had been appropriate.
The cabinet also noted that "as the CPT report does not give even the initials of alleged victims in these cases... it was very difficult to identify them in spite of considerable efforts."
Interior Minister Ivan Šimko later said that "when such allegations are made I would welcome if similar reports included concrete cases".
Cabinet also raised doubts over the credibility of some of the people reporting ill treatment. "In our opinion most of these allegations are unfounded and are made with the aim of throwing doubts on police actions."
Annual statistics reveal that public trust in the Slovak police has been steadily falling over the last five years. While in May 1996 55% of respondents said they did not trust the police, in a poll carried out by the statistics office, by December 2000 the number was 63%.
In his chapter on crime, which is a part of an annual report on Slovakia published by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, IVO analyst Jozef Majchrák said that apart from perceived corruption among the police, frequent cases of alleged brutality had contributed to falling public trust in the police.
The vice-president of the national police corps, Jaroslav Spišiak, said he thought that citizens had a right to complain or press charges whenever they felt they were ill-treated by the police.
"The Interior Ministry's inspection bureau handles these complaints without delay," he said. However, he said he did not know how many policemen were currently under investigation for misusing their powers, nor how many had lost their jobs as a result of abusing detainees.
The vice-rector at the Police Academy in Bratislava, Jozef Haládik, said he believed "it would be dangerous and inappropriate to say that all Slovak police are brutal, but it's in the interest of our professional honour to clear up such allegations promptly".
17. Dec 2001 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová