In its Tuesday session, the European Parliament has outlined an investigation into possible cases of police brutality in EU member states, and after intensive lobbying from Slovakian MEPs, the tragic case of Slovakian citizen Jozef Chovanec will be looked into by the Parliament’s committee.
Slovak Foreign Secretary Ivan Korčok has welcomed the European Parliament’s decision to investigate the death of Chovanec, who died in police custody in the Belgian town of Charleroi in 2018. Video footage of the circumstances of his death have since emerged, in which Belgian police officers are seen kneeling on a man’s body for over 15 minutes while making offensive and light-hearted comments. One officer is also seen making a Nazi salute during the incident.
The disturbing footage has incidentally been published soon after the death of George Floyd in the United States, which has sparked violent protests globally and has generated heated debate about alleged connections between racism and the conduct of certain officers. Although Slovakia has not seen any violent protests in connection with the death of its own citizen, serious questions have been raised as to why the incident has not been investigated by Belgian authorities, nor has the case been publicized by mainstream media outlets.
In his reaction to the news from the European Parliament, the Slovak foreign secretary has stated that their citizen “was exposed to police violence that has no place in a democratic society”.
The victim’s widow had also expressed her disbelief over the fact that in the past two years authorities have not done anything to clarify the circumstances of her husband’s death and claimed that the Belgian police are trying to sweep the entire incident under the rug. Slovakian MEPs were reportedly facing an uphill struggle when trying to mobilize support for an investigation, and are still not certain that their efforts will result in convictions, said Slovak MEP Ivan Stefanec.
At the beginning of the scandal, the European Commission had signaled that they regard the case to be a Belgian internal matter, yet changed their tune as the incident had started to grow into an international media story. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson had stated that there should be more transparency in investigating accusations of police misconduct, yet the debate had quickly shifted from Chovanec’s case towards a discussion on “police brutality against vulnerable minority groups”.
Balázs Hidvégi, Hungarian MEP for Fidesz, has voiced his concerns that the European Commission is wantonly picking and choosing between what cases concerning human rights they regard as worthy of their attention. He was referring to the 2006 police intervention during the government of former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, during which dozens of demonstrators were violently beaten and pepper sprayed, and in which a demonstrator had lost an eye. None of these incidents have merited the European Commission’s attention, let alone criticism. The European Union is using the rule-of-law proceedings only as a political instrument against those countries with whom they have a clash of values, said the Hungarian MEP.
Major international human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International, are equally silent with regards to Chovanec’s death in police custody, while they have taken a strong stance in connection with other incidents in which members of minority groups have been the alleged victims.
A search for the name of Chovanec will bring up no results on the human rights group’s website, which is funded by the American oligarch George Soros, however, there are over 10 pages of results for the name of American victim of alleged racist police violence, George Floyd.
Amnesty has in the past also strongly criticized the Hungarian police and authorities for the forcible removal of two opposition MPs from the Hungarian public broadcaster’s (MTVA) building who were trying to disrupt its programs while pretending to be assaulted by security guards.