ERRC studies allege inappropriate police violence in Roma community

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) scrutinised alleged police violence in the Romani neighbourhood of Zborov from April 16, based on a video footage by a witness.

Police Corps President Tibor GašparPolice Corps President Tibor Gašpar (Source: Sme)

The ERRC received video evidence of police officers attacking Roma at random in a street of the village of Zborov in the Bardejov Dsitrict in eastern Slovakia. Police entered the Roma settlement and began indiscriminately beating Roma, including children and elderly people, according to the Centre.

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Three people required medical assistance: a 5-year-old boy, a man in his 40’s with a heart condition, and an elderly lady with disabilities, the ERRC has learned, as well as the fact that an ambulance was temporarily blocked from entering the neighbourhood by the police after it was called to treat the injured. Witnesses who filmed the violence were visited by police officers later that evening and told to delete any footage they had of the events. The ERRC informant who filmed the incident refused to be intimidated and to delete the footage taken in a public area.

According to his report, the first police car arrived between 17:00 and 18:00 and “after some time another six policemen in uniform appeared, as well as two others in civilian clothes. A young boy was injured and a man in his forties was pushed to the ground despite the police being told by his relatives that he had a heart condition. The elderly lady you can see being pushed to the ground in the video also has some disability,” he told the ERRC monitor.

Police were called to the area after a fight broke out in the Roma neighbourhood. They entered with batons drawn, causing terror amongst the residents as they advanced through the streets, beating men, women and children in their path, the Centre wrote on May 24. A Roma resident who fled the violence said “if anyone tried to reason with them, when they appealed to them to stop – they were beaten”.

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The Minister of the Interior, Robert Kaliňák, has announced plans to increase police numbers in municipalities across Slovakia where there are large Roma populations. “If this is the sort of policing we can expect, is it safe to have even more police officers on the streets of majority Roma areas?” ERRC President Đorđe Jovanović asked, adding that “we do not want more officers whose idea of good police work is brutalising minority communities in these locations”.

The ERRC has looked at the crime statistics for the municipalities where the minister has proposed an increase of police, finding that “the areas which have been proposed for an increase in policing are not those where the crime rates are highest but those where the Roma population is relatively high”. According to the government’s own data, there is no strong correlation between a high percentage of Roma in a municipality and increased crime rate. The Interior Ministry denied any racial bias in the decision to increase police units almost exclusively in municipalities with high Roma populations.

The ERRC are awaiting a response from the spokesperson of the regional police office.

Response in Slovakia

The public TV channel RTVS which showed the video on its Facebook site also reported that after the end of the raid, police forced locals to erase all footage from their mobile phones, allegedly leaving just this single one.

Police President Tibor Gašpar also reacted to the video, saying – as cited by the Sme daily – that “several of these interventions seem to me quite inappropriate”. He sent the video for police inspection.

This would not be the first aggressive police action against Roma. Raids from June 2013 in the Budulovská settlement of Moldava nad Bodvou and in the village of Drienovec were highly publicised. Then, police claimed it was a planned search operation in which 63 officers participated, detaining 15 people, of which they wanted to identify eight, charged five with a minor misdemeanours and investigated two for the suspected crime of attacking a public official.

Several Roma were injured two years ago, during a police raid in the village of Vrbnica in the Michalovce District. The locals then claimed that the means used by the police were unduly harsh and affected decent people who had not had any problems with law before, Sme wrote on May 24.

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