Judge refuses collective police brutality complaint, says must be filed separately

Judge refuses collective police brutality complaint, says must be filed separately
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A Brussels judge refused the collective complaint regarding police brutality made by the parents of a group of young people who participated in an illegal mass gathering to protest class injustice back in January, saying on Wednesday that their complaints must each be filed separately.

“They want to make it more difficult for us to act,” Joke Callewaert of Progress Lawyers Network, one of the lawyers representing those in the collective complaints, told The Brussels Times. “If you take those complaints apart, it’s much more difficult for us to build a strong case because then it’s always the word of one person against all of the police officers.”

The young people were arrested on 24 January because the unauthorised protest was a violation of coronavirus measures that prohibited mass gatherings. They and others are alleging that police responded with disproportionate force and violence when breaking up the gathering and conducting arrests.

In various testimonies from minors and adults alike, the protestors say they experienced police brutality, particularly at the Etterbeek station, where many were detained for several hours, according to Bruzz.

Around a dozen families filed a collective complaint regarding the matter on Tuesday. Callewaert says it’s important that the complaint be collective not only in order to bolster the strength and validity of the claims, but also to bolster the confidence of those filing it.

“It’s scary to press those charges alone,” Callewaert said, explaining that to do so requires an upfront fee of €250 and that if the police are ultimately found not guilty, the alleged victims could be on the hook for court fees up to €12,000.

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“Police violence is not a new issue, but often people are isolated and dare not say anything,” one father involved in the group complaint explained. “We are a collective now, that's essential.”

But the judge insists they must file separate complaints, which could potentially be merged later. Callewaert has called the refusal illegal.

“It's the same police, it's the same day, it's the same facts, it's the same place where they have all been arrested,” she said.

The lawyers plan to see if they can ask the public prosecutor’s office to compel the judge to bundle the complaints together.

Helen Lyons

The Brussels Times

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