Police overstepped the mark in dealing with a demonstration involving the so-called “yellow vests” in Brussels in 2018 and 2019, the Comité P has ruled.
The Comité P is the independent body which oversees police operations. Committee chairperson Kathleen Stinckens explained that the committee was sitting because of complaints from the yellow vests – demonstrators against government policies identified by their high-visibility waistcoats.
However while dealing with the yellow vest demonstrations, the committee had decided to extend its reflections to the way any major demonstration is dealt with.
One “particularly worrying” theme which arose from the situations looked at was the widespread practice by police of using administrative arrests for no apparent reason than to detain demonstrators – especially leaders of the protest – and in many cases subject them to a strip search.
Administrative arrest is, as the name suggests, intended to be used when the identity of an offender cannot be immediately determined. It is not intended as a means of getting demonstrators off the streets. If the person in question is breaking the law, the right of judicial arrest already exists, but carries more conditions than administrative arrest.
When administrative arrest is used, the report says, police need to make note of whether someone was searched naked before being locked up, and what concrete elements justified such a search. The identity of the responsible police officer must also be included.
It is the responsibility of the police, in situations where many arrests are anticipated, to ensure that demonstrators are treated correctly, and to “avoid detained persons being held in inappropriate spaces such as riding stables or garages.”
The committee’s report makes a number of other recommendations: correct registration of minors and separate detention facilities; attention for anyone with health issues; avoid rough treatment and aggressive comments; keep to a minimum the length of time those detained are kept in handcuffs, or more usually plastic wrist-strips.
“Things have clearly happened which should not have,” said Groen MP Stefaan Van Hecke. “There also seems to have been some harassment. That doesn’t mean that all police officers act this way, but the actions of the police do not always appear to be proportional. This needs to be better organised. Too many people are being arrested en masse during such demonstrations.”