Police officer suspected of beating government official at anti-extremists rally

Katerina Jacques, photo: CTK

May 1 in the Czech Republic is a day marked by declarations of love and by political demonstrations. While the country's love birds enjoy the spring, Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists and far-right extremists gather to hold their traditional May Day rallies. On Monday, as every year, the police were on guard to avoid clashes between Neo-Nazi groups and anarchists. But this year, though, it was the behaviour of the police themselves that hit the headlines.

Katerina Jacques, photo: CTK
Katerina Jacques, the head of the government's human rights section says she was brutally beaten by a police officer when she refused to stop protesting against a group of Neo-Nazis, who were marching through Prague.

"They asked us to leave and when we said we would stay, one officer pulled the banner out of my hand, pushed me against a door, pulled me to the floor, kicked me, and handcuffed me. He then proceeded to drag me about 20 metres before he used his truncheon to brutally shove me into a police car."

This is how Katerina Jacques described the incident. The alleged attack occurred at Prague's Palacky Square, where Mrs Jacques, a candidate for the opposition Green Party in the upcoming parliamentary elections, had gathered with other party members. Accompanied by her two children and holding a "Greens against Neo-Nazism" banner, Mrs Jacques and the rest of the group were holding a peaceful protest against the several dozen Neo-Nazis who marched by.

Katerina Jacques, who suffered cuts and bruises, says that she cannot understand why the police officer assaulted her. She was taken to a police station for questioning and, only after she demanded to be taken to a doctor, was given medical attention.

"I was beaten in front of my children, who are in total shock right now. I have been bringing them up to trust and honour the police and to approach them whenever they are in need of protection. Instead, they had to watch the police beat up their mother. All the other officers were only concerned about the people who were trying to photograph the incident. None of them bothered to stop him."

Katerina Jacques, photo: CTK
The police have objected to the accusations and say Mrs Jacques was arrested because she was disturbing the peace. "We have begun a thorough investigation into the incident and are determined to clarify what happened," a statement reads. But police chief Vladislav Husak already has his doubts about Mrs Jacques' testimony. All officers go through demanding psychological examination before they join the special unit, he says, adding that the officer in question has been in the force for almost twenty years without showing any signs of psychological stress.

Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan expects the investigation to be concluded by the end of the week. The officer involved has been suspended from duties. If the investigation proves that he abused his authority, he will be dismissed.

Just weeks before parliamentary elections, the incident has inevitably become a political issue, and it is not just Green politicians who are calling for a more drastic response. The deputy-leader of the opposition right-wing Civic Democrats, Miroslava Nemcova, says the police have clearly failed and Interior Minister Bublan should resign. Whether or not heads will roll should become clear next week.