Slovakia condemns Belgian police brutality against citizen

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Police officers subdue Slovak man, Jozef Chovanec in this image taken from CCTV inside a cell at Charleroi airport in Belgium on Feb. 24, 2018. A top Belgian police official stepped aside Thursday Aug. 20, 2020 a day after the emergence of a 2018 video showing an officer sitting on top of Slovak man Chovanec, in custody at Charleroi airport and another officer apparently making a Hitler salute. The man, who was in distress, later died. (Charleroi Police CCTV via AP)

BRATISLAVA – Slovakia’s foreign minister on Friday condemned the violent treatment of a Slovak citizen by police officers at a Belgian airport and demanded a thorough investigation. The man, who was in distress, later died.

Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok commented on the case after a Belgian newspaper this week published a 2018 video of an officer sitting on top of a man at Brussels South Charleroi Airport and another officer apparently making a Hitler salute.

“There’s no place for such practices in the democratic society,” Korcok said during a news conference with German Foreign Minister counterpart Heiko Maas.

Korcok said the security video recorded in an airport detention room showed an “inadequate and absolutely unacceptable police brutality” that shocked all of Slovakia. He said his ministry sent a note to Belgian authorities with a request to investigate.

The Slovak man, Jozef Chovanec, had been prevented from boarding a plane at the airport after he didn’t show a ticket and was disruptive. The security video shows him repeatedly banging his head against the wall of the detention room.

When officers came in, they put him on a bed and forcefully restricted his movements, with one officer sitting on him for a long time. Another officer made an apparent Nazi salute. Chovanec died after emergency health officials took him to a hospital.

On Thursday, the No. 2 Belgian federal police official, André Desenfants, temporarily stepped aside from his post until an investigation is carried out.

Korcok said he appreciated the move.

Belgium’s government itself reacted vigorously after the video from an ongoing investigation came to light Wednesday. Justice Minister Koen Geens called the recording “unseemly and totally shocking.”

Interior Minister Pieter De Crem said, “The circumstances need to be clarified and an investigation is ongoing.’’

Police brutality has gained renewed attention as an issue after the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S. state of Minneapolis in May. Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.