Human rights defenders: Crime has no nationality
On May 16, police officers raided dozens of Roma houses in Mahilioŭ, after a local road policeman, Yauhen Patapovich, was abducted and murdered outside the city.
According to locals contacted by Radio Liberty’s reporters, almost all males in the community are currently in custody on suspicion of involvement in yesterday’s murder.
A special police force broke into the houses, ordering the people to the ground, including women and children, said a Roma woman who wished to remain anonymous.
According to the woman and her neighbors, police only targeted Roma houses in the districts of Čapajeŭka i Hrebianiova. Some women were also detained to spend the night at the police station. Then the women were released, while some 30-40 men are still in detention.
“They said our men were going to be in jail until we found the criminals. Told us to search the people through our “gypsy mail”,” the woman said.
Viasna’s human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich says he is alarmed by such developments:
“The information is very alarming. We, human rights activists, call for restraint from both the citizens and law enforcement personnel, we urge to act within the law, instead of violating anyone’s rights, including on ethnic grounds. About 40 people have been arrested and still held as part of a criminal investigation in Mahilioŭ. Is this legal? It seems that this instance of Roma profiling is excessive. In general, crime has no nationality. It is totally wrong to arrest every Roma male in the city.”
Lawyer Pavel Sapelka adds that the national dimension is only one, although a very important part of the problem, while the other problem is that in this way the guarantees of a fair trial are being questioned.
“The people are detained for three days, and can be theoretically extended up to 10 days, and in special cases up to 20 days without a charge. Although it is the accepted standard to bring the charge immediately after the arrest. When people are detained as suspects, there should be sufficient grounds for that. What are they suspected of? Are there any witnesses who said that it were these people whom they saw at the crime scene? Were any items and evidence found? Because the only valid reason for short-term detention is traces of the crime found on their clothes or vehicles or when witnesses directly point to a specific person, or they had been caught in the act, or they are trying to hide... All these grounds are absent in this very case. So it turns out they are suspected only because they are Roma?