Letter from Prague

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And now it's time for this week's Letter from Prague, and today Nick Carey takes a look at the results of the Interior Ministry's investigation into complaints of police brutality during the IMF/World Bank meetings in Prague last September.

For anyone who is a regular listener to Radio Prague, it will not take much to recall the violent street clashes that took place between anarchist demonstrators and the police last September during the IMF/World Bank meetings.

At the time, there was a great deal of footage and newspaper coverage given to the running street battles, which led to the arrests of almost one thousand protestors. This coverage was nigh on ninety nine percent in favour of the police and their actions. The Czech people, media and politicians all praised the police for the way they handled the demonstrators, and one politician, the somewhat reactionary Deputy Chairman of the centre-right Civic Democrats, Miroslav Macek, even went as far as to suggest that violent protestors should be shot. There was very little to be heard in the way of dissenting voices over the way the police handled the violence.

I was out on the streets covering the IMF/World Bank protests throughout September 26th, when the violent clashes took place. For the most part, and I would like to stress that, for the most part, the Czech police did act with restraint, and were professional in their treatment of protestors. For the most part. I personally saw a few instances where the police were heavy-handed with demonstrators who were not involved in the violence, and I understand why. The police had, after all, been pelted with cobblestones and petrol bombs throughout much of the day. I can imagine my anger and frustration at being treated like that, and that I might be tempted in that situation to be a bit rough when handling protestors. Although I understand it, I cannot wholly condone it.

The Interior Ministry, despite denying that there were any cases of police brutality, launched an internal investigation into allegations of police brutality. In all, there were 380 complaints filed by protestors, that police interrogators hid their ID numbers, that they were denied a call to friends or relatives and that they were forced to sign confessions written in Czech, even if they did not understand the language. The investigation first dismissed 280 of the complaints because they were written in a foreign language, which I find stunning, because it seems to be a ridiculous criterion for running an investigation. I am not sure why these complaints could not have been translated. Out of the remaining one hundred complaints, the investigation decided to deal with just 14, which is about only four percent of the total. The vast majority of those cases were thrown out for, the police say, a lack of clear evidence.

In all, three police officers are to be disciplined for minor offences, which has human rights organisations up in arms. And again, I understand why. The problem is that by holding an internal investigation, and not an independent one, and by examining four percent of the cases, the Interior Ministry leaves itself open to accusations of bias when dealing with allegations of police brutality. And on the surface, it would seem that this could be the case. If the investigation had been handed to someone else, who had taken the time to look at all the allegations, and may or may not have come to exactly the same conclusions anyway, this would have effectively brought the matter to an end. But by not doing so, the Interior Ministry has left the door open for endless disputes over the issue.