Amnesty International urges Czechs to deal with police brutality

13-03-2001

For a few days in September last year, Prague became the focus of international attention, as violent clashes broke out between police and anarchist protestors during the IMF/World Bank meetings. Almost one thousand people were arrested, and three hundred complaints of police brutality were lodged by protestors. After holding its own investigation, the Interior Ministry has denied charges of police brutality, but a news release issued on Monday by Amnesty International claims that the police abused human rights, and describes police actions in some cases as verging on torture. Nick Carey has this report.

The running street battles between riot police units and anarchist protestors during the IMF/World Bank meetings in late September made the headlines in the Czech press for a long time after the bankers and international financiers had gone home. Czech politicians, the media and the vast majority of the public were all full of praise for the way the police handled the situation. Allegations of police brutality were dismissed by many, in particular Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, who said that the police had acted with restraint.

Vaclav Trojan of the Helsinki Committee believes that at first the police did act with restraint, but following the main clashes and away from the public eye some officers abused their power

"What happened after the first clashes, and especially in streets and police stations, I think was very serious. We observed a lot of violence, especially reports from the people who were behind the closed doors of police stations. It is really hard to estimate what really happened because we have no direct witnesses. The police, of course, were doing everything behind closed doors. We know that there were several really serious cases of abuse of police authority and of really brutal and ugly violence of the police."

After three hundred complaints of police brutality were received, the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the allegations. Altogether, fourteen cases were investigated, and disciplinary action has been taken against three officers, who were, according to the ministry over zealous in performing their duties. But in a press release on Monday, Amnesty International, which has investigated sixty allegations of brutality, claims that the Czech police may have violated the human rights of many people who were detained during the IMF/World Bank meetings. Amnesty International lists various cases of violence in police stations, such as kicking and punching handcuffed prisoners, which it says could amount to torture.

According to Vaclav Trojan of the Helsinki Committee, the truth may well lie between the two different versions of events. But he believes that the Interior Ministry's investigation has little credibility, because it was not conducted independently:

"It is not relevant to have the same ministry and institution investigating abuses of power by the police. I think that the mistake is that we don't have an independent institution which is able to investigate claims of police brutality or police abuse of power. I think is the biggest problem, and it needs to be rectified."

13-03-2001