Top Belgian policeman steps down over Nazi-salute brutality
Belgium’s second most senior police officer stepped down temporarily on Thursday after a video emerged showing a Slovak man being violently pinned down by airport police officers, in images that recalled the fate of George Floyd in the US.
elgium’s second most senior police officer stepped down temporarily on Thursday after a video emerged showing a Slovak man being violently pinned down by airport police officers, in images that recalled the fate of George Floyd in the US.
The CCTV images, seen by AFP, date to February 2018, when Jozef Chovanec was taken off a plane in Charleroi, Belgium, after refusing to show his ticket as he boarded.
Chovanec, who died in the wake of the incident, was taken to a holding cell where he is seen in harrowing footage banging his head against the wall until his face bleeds heavily.
Several police officers are later seen entering the room to handcuff Chovanec. When this fails to calm him, they return to hold him down, with one sitting on his chest for 16 minutes.
During this sequence, a female officer is seen in the cell dancing and making a Nazi salute.
Chovanec was then taken to hospital where he died after going into a coma, officially of a heart attack.
During a news conference in Brussels, Andre Desenfants — head of the General Directorate of Administrative Police (DGA) which covers the transport police since December 2017 — said he was “deeply affected” and “shocked” by the footage as he announced his decision to step down while an internal investigation takes place.
“What shocked me first of all were the images I saw… but also that I was unaware of the content of these videotapes,” he said.
Desenfants said the decision for him to step down temporarily had been “a personal decision” which had been accepted by the Commissioner General of the federal police, the head of the force, Marc De Mesmaeker, who only came to his position after February 2018.
– ‘Not taken seriously’ –
According to her legal team, widow Henrieta Chovancova chose to make the video public against their advice as she had grown frustrated with the investigation, which has dragged on for two years.
“Our client wanted to show these images to the world because she has no faith in the criminal investigation,” said Lennert Dierickx, a member of the legal team that is led by Ann Van De Steen.
“She felt the case was not being taken seriously,” he added.
Chovanec’s death has been likened to the case of George Floyd, who died in May after a police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest in the United States.
“I am just sad,” widow Chovancova told De Morgen newspaper.
“It makes me feel even more that they tried to sweep my husband’s death under the rug, as if he were garbage that had to disappear,” she said.
A spokesman for the Belgian Interior Minister Pieter De Crem said the specifics of the video were not known by top officials until this week.
“We discovered this yesterday morning when the media did. The images are shocking, the behaviour of the police is unacceptable,” said Erik Eenaerts, the spokesman.
He said disciplinary action would be imposed on the officers concerned and that the policewoman giving the Nazi salute had been transferred to a desk job.
“We’re also going to have to figure out why these images were never taken to the highest level,” he added.
The video was first reported by Het Laatse Nieuws, a Belgian daily.