Belgium condemned for police violence by European Court of Human Rights

Belgium condemned for police violence by European Court of Human Rights
Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Khaled Boutaffala, director of the Schaerbeek youth service, won his case against the Belgian State at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday, which ruled to recognise that he had not received a fair trial when he was convicted of resisting arrest, reports BX1.

The case dates back to 28 August 2009, when the lawyer returned from work and was harshly arrested by police following an incident in Saint-Gilles, Brussels.

Denying that he had resisted arrest and hit the officers, the Belgian State admitted in 2017 that Boutaffala had rather been subjected to police violence and insults.

However, he was still convicted of resisting arrest, which he then contested with support from the Belgian League for Human Rights, who made him a key face and figure for victims of police violence.

Boutaffala's victory

On Tuesday, judges in Strasbourg ruled in his favour. They found that the Brussels Court of Appeal favoured statements made by the police officers who carried out the arrest, even though the conditions of the arrest were recognised by the government as being contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court of Appeal had justified its refusal to question the incriminating statements made by the police officers on the grounds that they were confirmed by other police officers who were present at the time of the events but had nothing to do with the case.

But for the ECHR, these police officers were themselves defendants in a previous police violence case initiated by Boutaffala, and they may have been reluctant to testify against colleagues.

Furthermore, police claims that Boutaffala had hit them were not confirmed by two independent witnesses.

Resisting arrest as a form of retaliation

The Belgian League of Human Rights said that the ruling "sends a strong signal to the Belgian authorities: it condemns the way in which some courts give disproportionate weight to the word of the police."

The organisation also stressed that the prosecution had insufficient proof that Boutaffala had resisted arrest, underlining that the decision also points to a "recurring practice of filing a complaint for resisting arrest as a form of retaliation for an individual's complaint of police violence."

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This is not the first time that the Belgian authorities have faced international condemnation over police violence. Data from the police complaints commission also showed an increase in incidents of discrimination and racism among the Belgian police force in 2021.

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