17 September 2012
Police again fail to properly qualify cases as racial violence. Instead of investigating racial motives and considering recent incidents in Cegléd, violence against a member of a community, focuses on simple rowdyism.
“The police report established that the law enforcement at Cegléd had acted lawfully, decisively, and in a professional manner, and managed to prevent rights violations.” This statement of the National Police is in itself controversial, as the very same statement also claims that police had started investigations into three different cases in Cegléd. The full report on the investigation into police activity at Cegléd was not disclosed to public. However, it is evident already from this brief official statement that the police is satisfied, claiming there was no problem with the police operation at all.
Five human rights NGOs, Amnesty International Hungary, the Hatter Support Society for LGBT People, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities disagree with this police statement. These NGOs have experienced and criticised it for years that the Hungarian police tends to falsely classify prejudice motivated violence against minorities: if police proceedings are at all launched, they focus on the pettier act of rowdyism instead of the crime of violence against a member of a community.
The government often refers proudly to the amendments made in the Criminal Code in May 2011 following racist incidents at the village of Gyongyospata, as a result of which a new hate crime had been introduced, that is rowdyism motivated by one's ethnicity or by other prejudice. This type of hate crime refers amongst others to cases when somebody marches through a Roma settlement yelling about the eradication of Roma people, or when signs of swastika are graffiti painted on the houses of Jewish people.
The concerns raised by the NGOs already at the enactment of the legal amendment have become a reality: this part of the hate crime law has hardly ever been used by the police when initiating investigations. The hate crime law is only properly implemented in cases when lawyers intervene, and draw authorities' attention to the hate motivation of the crime. Police does not consider the incident at Cegled as a hate crime either, despite that on 18 August people belonging to extremist groups were demonstrating rowdy behaviour and inducing alarm in the local community with an obvious anti-Roma intention. Moreover, the subsequent inquiry of the National Police into the police work at Cegled did not consider it necessary either to launch investigation into a more serious crime.
The same happened in Devecser, during a far-right demonstration: despite the crowd gathering in front of Roma people's houses and threatening the locals clearly committed the criminal offence of violence against a member of a community in groups, no perpetrators had been identity checked or taken into custody. The same practice was observed during the Budapest Pride march in 2011, when police did not take action against those who threatened the Pride participants.
Furthermore – according to the police statement – the investigation ordered by the National Police looked into police operations at Cegléd only on 19 August, whereas a larger group of extremists (appr. 50-60 people) started to march and threaten locals on the streets of Roma the day before, on 18 August. It was in fact on 18 August when the local Roma community in Cegléd felt that they did not get adequate police protection from the discriminative violence. According to locals, it was only later in the night of 18 August when extra police arriving there managed to provide a more adequate protection to them.
In spite of the smug communication of the government and the police, the joint position of the undersigned human rights organizations is that neither police, nor the government are able to take timely and effective action when the personal security and integrity of fellow Roma citizens is at stake. The NGOs call on the police to consistently implement the legislation in effect and to protect all citizens. In order to enforce this call and to facilitate local residents' access to justice, the organizations are offering legal representation to the victims. Additionally, they are filing a complaint with the police about the acts of negligence of the authority.