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HFHR responds to suspicions of Police violence

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has expressed concern about the discontinuance of proceedings against the police officers who, as Paweł Stefaniak alleges, might have abused their powers during Mr Stefaniak’s arrest.

Victim’s account

On 16 September 2018, Paweł Stefaniak and his two acquaintances were arrested during a burglary into an abandoned warehouse at Marki, a Warsaw suburban town. According to their accounts, the three were beaten by the officers making the arrest. Paweł alleges that his friend Emil was hit with a metal baton on his legs and fell to the ground. Paweł reacted to the officers’ behaviour by saying that “the Police mustn’t hit people like that”. He claims that in response to his words, the officers took him to a nearby garage and hit him in his head, tripped him and kicked him while he was on the ground. Paweł says he was handcuffed and unable to deflect the blows. “I was screaming in pain when I was lying on the ground, and an officer trampled my left leg and forcibly pulled the other leg upwards, and then struck me viciously with a baton in my crouch”.

The men were later taken to a police station. They were charged with burglary and destruction of property. The arrestees confessed and agreed to be sentenced without a trial. After being released from the police station Paweł went to the hospital to undergo a forensic medical examination.

According to documents provided to the Foundation, Paweł Stefaniak reported the case to the District Prosecutor’s Office in Otwock. However, the Prosecutor’s Office discontinued the investigation. In the justification for the discontinuation decision, a prosecutor stated that “the collarbone injury could have arisen …. as a result of either a fall resulting from a face punch or a spontaneous fall on the ground”. However, she also indicated that “it cannot be definitively excluded that Paweł Stefaniak was injured in other circumstances”.

Mr Stefaniak’s father informed the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights that the victim had filed an interlocutory appeal against the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office to discontinue the proceedings to the District Court in Wołomin.

HFHR observations

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has addressed the situation by sending written observations to the District Court in Wołomin, which will deal with the victim’s appeal. In its observations, the HFHR invoked the guarantees resulting from Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the prohibition of torture.

“Article 3 requires that human beings must not be subjected to treatment contrary to the nature of human dignity, and in particular any treatment causing physical and/or mental suffering, which can generally be described as the prohibition of maltreatment”, says Justyna Jezierska, a lawyer with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

“We must remember that the state has an absolute obligation to comprehensively investigate every case in which public officials might have violated the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment”, emphasises Piotr Kubaszewski, Coordinator of the HFHR Legal Intervention Programme.

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