Belgians demand proper probe into death of Slovak national in 2018

Recently, footage was released of incidents in the cell in which Jozef Chovanec, a Slovak citizen, was kept shortly before he died. It showed police personnel pinning him down while laughing. One of the officers even makes a Nazi salute

August 22, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
A screengrab of footage from the cell in which Jozef Chovanec was pinned down by police personnel.

Fresh revelations on the death of a Slovak citizen in police custody in 2018 have sparked widespread outrage in Belgium. On August 19, a Belgian news outlet released footage of the cell where Jozef Chovanec, a 38-year old Slovak citizen, was detained. The footage shows six police officers subduing him and laughing. One of the officers sat on his rib cage for 16 minutes while another officer performed a Nazi salute. Following the release of the video, there have been widespread calls for a proper inquiry into the issue.

Jozef Chovanec, who used to travel frequently to Belgium for his business purposes, was detained at Charleroi Airport in February 2018 for causing a disturbance while boarding a flight. It was reported that while in custody, Chovanec injured himself by banging his head on the wall of the cell till he bled following which he was pinned down. He died the next day in a hospital. The inquiry into his death never reached a proper conclusion and his wife and progressive groups have demanded justice. There have also been comparisons to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers.

In the aftermath of the release of the footage, the female police officer who performed the Nazi salute was reportedly dismissed.

Federal MP Nabil Boukili from the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) stated that “We are all shocked by the images of the death of Jozef Chovanec..The Ministers of the Interior, Pieter De Crem, and of Justice, Koen Geens, must explain what happened in Charleroi two-and-a-half years ago.”

The progressive Belgian youth group, RedFox, sharply criticized the police. “We demand a police that protects us and treats everyone equally. No more room for racists or abuse of power, no room for excessive violence and sexism. Police brutality, whether or not out of extreme right wing belief, is a danger to our country. Glorifying Nazism is a crime. But who will punish the police when they themselves commit a crime, the group asked.