Recently we were all moved by the security camera recording from the detention cell of South Charleroi airport that revealed shocking and inhumane treatment of Mr. Jozef Chovanec, 38-year old Slovak citizen who consequently died. This case has shown unprecedented police brutality with features of extremism. After the revelation of this recording, the citizens all across Europe and especially in Slovakia expect not only the Belgian authorities but also the European authorities to act. Moreover, the information about the investigation provided by media indicate systemic failure in the proceedings that have lasted more than two years.
Therefore, MEP Miriam Lexmann from Slovakia initiated a letter supported by 59 MEPs that calls on the European Commission, the guardian of the Treaties and European values incorporated therein, to ensure that this case will be investigated thoroughly as well as provide consistency with regards to the rule of law across EU member states. In this respect, MEPs are asking the Commission to monitor the way Belgian authorities dealt and are dealing with the case.
Miriam Lexmann (EPP, Slovakia) said:
“This letter is not about pointing fingers towards Belgium. As this case is showing signs of individual and systemic failure, including features of extremism, our aim is to call on the Commission to work with member states to address systemic issues with regards to the rule of law.”
“I believe that this case cannot be ignored and therefore I would like to inform you about the letter itself and our appeal to the European Commission to pay attention to it.” said Miriam Lexmann.
A Letter supported by 59 MEPs
Honourable President Von Der Leyen,
Honourable Members of the European Commission,
We, undersigned Members of the European Parliament, would like to draw your attention to the case of Mr. Jozef Chovanec, a Slovak citizen who died following his arrest by the Belgian Federal Police at the Brussels South Airport Charleroi on 23 February 2018. We are deeply moved by the case of Jozef Chovanec which was recently brought to the attention of the public following the publication by the Belgian media of the security camera recording from police custody. We are revolted by an unprecedented and appalling police brutality to which he was subjected.
On 23 February 2018, Jozef Chovanec, a 38-year old Slovak businessman was travelling by plane from Belgium back to his wife and 3-year old daughter in Slovakia. Following an altercation with the staff of the airline company Ryanair, he was taken out from the plane by the Belgian Federal Police and put in one of the detention cells at the Charleroi Airport. Although there are multiple descriptions of the circumstances that had preceded his detention, these were according to our information never truly investigated as some passengers of the same flight who were direct eye witnesses, including those who spoke to Jozef Chovanec at the airport, were not heard by the investigators. Recently, the Belgian media published a security camera recording from the detention cell showing a shocking and inhumane police behaviour. After several hours in detention, Jozef Chovanec was showing strong signs of distress leading to self-harm. Subsequently, several Belgian Federal Police officers pacified him by restraining his arms and legs, covering his head and body by a blanket and sitting on his chest for sixteen minutes. While some of the officers were using this highly inappropriate method to pacify a person that was already restrained, lying on the bed facing down, other colleagues were visibly amused, dancing or even performing a Nazi salute. While Jozef Chovanec needed help and medical aid, it was available only after he fell unconscious. He was then transported to hospital in a critical condition where he died on 27 February 2018.
We are very concerned that whilst the situation which led to the detention and death of Jozef Chovanec occurred two and a half years ago, the case is still being investigated by the Belgian authorities. Not only there is no possible justification of the way Jozef Chovanec was treated while in police custody, there is also no explanation of the fact that for two and a half years the Belgian Federal Police officers who intervened on Jozef Chovanec to our best knowledge continue to exercise their profession. The manifestation of extremism in their behaviour also made us deeply worried as such behaviour is simply not acceptable in any law enforcement agency in any Member State and must be condemned.
We, as representatives of the European citizens who believe in European values and are ready to defend them, strongly call for the investigation of this terrible act and all its circumstances. Only a thorough investigation of the death of Jozef Chovanec, including the behaviour of the Belgian Federal Police officers, can dispel the mistrust in the investigation by the Belgian authorities and reassure the European public that such act will not be left without legal consequences. The rule of law including the fair treatment of all individuals and due process are some of the fundamental principles and values upon which the European Union is founded. Failing in investigation of this case will amplify the mistrust of European citizens in the European project and values on which it is built. We are therefore writing you, Members of the European Commission, the guardian of the Treaties and European values incorporated therein, and asking you to call on the Belgian authorities to urgently act and ensure that this case will be investigated properly.