Fatal Charleroi Airport arrest will be brought before Belgian Justice Committee

Fatal Charleroi Airport arrest will be brought before Belgian Justice Committee
Still from CCTV footage originally obtained by Het Laatste Nieuws

The Belgian parliament will set up a hearing to review the 2018 death of a Slovak man under police custody at Charleroi Airport, after images of one officer doing a Nazi salute while in the man's cell emerged online.

The meeting of the Justice and Interior Commission in the Chamber has been slated for next Tuesday or Wednesday, Kristien Van Vaerenbergh, chair of the Justice Commission, told De Morgen.

News of the hearing comes after footage emerged of several police officers restraining Jozef Chovanec, a Slovak national who died after being arrested in Charleroi Airport in 2018 for reportedly behaving in a disorderly manner before boarding a flight.

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In the footage, Chovanec can be seen in apparent distress inside a small cell, fidgeting and jumping around before proceeding to bang his head against the cell door until blood begins to cover his face.

The footage then shows at least six officers inside the cell hovering around Chovanec, who has tied-up at his hands and feet and dragged him face down onto the bed, as one officer climbs on top of him and kneels on his back, despite Chovanec not physically resisting the officers once he has been put on the bed.

The officer remained on top of Chovanec for several minutes, after which a female police officer can be seen doing a Nazi salute with one hand while mimicking Hitler's signature moustache with the other.

The footage, which includes no audio aside from white noise and in which all of the officers' faces are blurred out, sparked outrage after being shared online and led to the resignation of the second-in-command of the federal police.

Federal Interior Minister Pieter De Crem said the "shocking" images were "burned on everyone's retina," and, while he said that officers had "acted out of proportion," he said any potential dismissions or suspensions were in the hands of the police.

All six police officers that can be seen in the video are still in service, De Standaard reports, with the officer who is seen doing the Hitler salute reportedly removed from services involving contact with the public.

The family of Chovanec, who went into cardiac arrest and died days later in the hospital at age 38, expressed fears that the fact that the investigation is still unresolved two years after the facts may be an attempt to bury the case.

"We want to know why they did it to him, why they treated him like this, I want some justice for him as well, of course," Chovanec's wife Henrieta Chovancová told De Morgen.

Ann Van de Steen, the family's lawyer, said that a complaint had been filed against public prosecutors in Charleroi and said that "no serious work" had been done on the case.

An autopsy after Chovanec's death showed that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of his arrest, with Chovancová saying that he might have suffered a psychotic episode at the time.

Sandrine Vairon of Charleroi's public prosecutor's office said that all police officers involved had already been questioned, despite the delays brought on by the coronavirus crisis, but said that an additional investigation was still ongoing.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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