National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NMPT) visits places of police detention after night arrest in Warsaw

  • NMPT representatives talked to 33 out of 48 people detained in relation to the protests after the arrest of an activist of the “Stop Bzdurom” (Stop Bullshit) grassroots team.
  • Detainees pointed to the inadequacy of police actions and the chaos that prevailed in police stations
  • Wasn’t it for the involvement of lawyers, many people wouldn’t be able to get legal assistance
  • Some were interrogated at night with no access to food or drinkDetainees also included random people returning home from shopping

Representatives of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture talked to 33 people detained in connection with the events which took place on 7 August 2020 in Warsaw after the arrest of the activist of the “Stop Bzdurom” group. They paid ad hoc visits to six detention facilities in Warsaw and Piaseczno The purpose of the visit was to examine the situation of those detained by the police, the conditions of their detention in the context of the implementation of the so-called minimum torture prevention guarantees.

Marcin Kusy, Deputy Director of NMPT, and Aleksandra Nowicka went to detention facility at ul. Nowolipie and at ul. Żeromskiego. Aleksandra Osińska and Michał Złobecki visited the facilities in ul. Zytnia and Janowskiego. Justyna Jóźwiak PhD, and Justyna Zarecka, in turn, talked to the detainees in the facility in ul. Jagiellońska and in Piaseczno. 33 out of 48 detainees were interviewed in total.

As it results from NMPT’s observations, people who did not actively participate in the assembly at Krakowskie Przedmieście or ul. Wilcza, but only watched the incident, were also among the detainees. Some of these people had been wearing rainbow emblems (bags, badges, flags). However, the detainee group also included random people, who at this very moment happened to return home with groceries.

Several interlocutors stressed the brutality of the police at the time of the arrest. Some of them mentioned having been beaten in police cars. Some of them had visible injuries, which were documented by NMPT representatives. Some detainees pointed to inadequate use of direct coercive measures, e.g. putting handcuffs at the back for transport, being thrown to the ground to have them put on.

All the people who talked to the NMPT representatives stressed enormous chaos prevailing among the Police officers. At the time of arrest, they were not presented with any reasons for detention. After some time, e.g. violation of the so-called COVID act was given as the reasons for detention. Eventually, most of the detainees were accused of committing unlawful act under Article 254 of the Penal Code, i.e. participating in a gathering with the awareness that its participants jointly committed a violent attack on a person or property. Detainees had not been informed about their destination.

In many cases, they were transported from one police station to another. The time between the arrest and the placement in a detention facility sometimes approached 12 hours. Some of the interviewees were interrogated at night. Some people reached detention facilities in the morning, where they slept on hard bunks, without a blanket and mattress, without food or water.

According to the information received by NMPT representatives officers presented extremely varied attitudes towards the detainees. Some were of an opinion that the policemen performed their tasks professionally. Some mentioned even that some policemen seemed ashamed to take action. However, there were also mentions of sharp-tongued, homophobic and transphobic comments for example: “an activist from Wielkopolska – how much do they pay you to come?”; or when asking for soap in the facility “hotel standards wanted?”. Male personal pronouns were exclusively used for communication with a transgender girl.

Most of the detainees were subjected to a strip search i.e. being asked to undress and do a squat. For a transgender girl, this check was performed by a male officer.

With regard to access to legal aid, the problem with lack of contact with an advocate/legal advisor from the very first moments of detention already recognised by the NMPT years ago was also visible in this case. If it had not been for the involvement of lawyers who out of their initiative arrived at the police stations, detainees would not have had the opportunity to seek legal aid. Many of those people have never had contact with lawyers before. Some of the interlocutors said that the lawyers themselves handed out business cards with contact details at the entrance to the police stations. In some situations, a detainee who didn’t know the name but had a telephone number of a lawyer couldn’t get into touch with him or her anyway. In some cases, detainees were instructed about the possibility of talking to a lawyer only after they had provided their explanation. If a meeting with a lawyer has taken place, confidentiality was not guaranteed.

The interviewees also pointed to the difficulties in passing on information about the detention to relatives. They said that they needed to know the phone numbers by heart because some of them were not allowed to find contacts in mobile phones, in other cases they were only allowed to contact their parents.

NMTP has long postulated that everyone should be examined by a doctor after the arrest, however, in this case only some people had this opportunity. Such an examination always took place in the presence of officers and some detainees were handcuffed even during the examination. Some of the people on regular medication were not examined by the doctors. A transgender person has been deprived of access to testosterone, which according to the doctor’s instructions should have been taken on the day of arrest.

Detailed conclusions from the visits will be presented later.

Photo: Bart Staszewski

Original text in Polish:

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