The Brussels branch of the public service union CGSP has written to Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close to complain about violent behaviour at a demonstration on 24 January. But what is particular about this complaint is that it takes aim at fellow police officers.
The demonstration took place in front of the Central station in Brussels on Sunday 24 January, and followed on from one ten days previously where demonstrators also clashed with police.
The city had originally forbidden the demonstration, but in the end relented and allowed it to take place for 45 minutes. Only 150 people turned up, but somehow later that evening, 245 people had been arrested and locked up in the special police cell complex CARPA in Etterbeek.
Since then, complaints have rained down from people who were arrested when leaving the station, having arrived in Brussels with no intention whatsoever of taking part in a demonstration.
One young woman described in an open letter how her boyfriend was detained for no reason, and when she asked why, she too found herself handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police van.
At the end of the day few if any of those arrested were charged with an offence. Those who had been detained for hours were arrested administratively, as the law in Belgium allows so that police can check a person’s identity, criminal record and so on. The power is often used, however, simply to round up numbers of people and clear the scene of a potential disturbance.
Some of the arrests, according to video posted afterwards on social media, involved violence. The police forces on duty were a mix of local Brussels-Ixelles police and members of the federal intervention squad.
The CGSP letter comes on behalf of local Brussels police, complaining of the behaviour of their federal colleagues.
“Our union organisation was approached by colleagues who witnessed needless police brutality at CARPA during the administrative arrests of often very young protesters,” the letter states.
“These people do not want to be associated with this type of behaviour, and a report has also been prepared for the authorities and the head of the force. The procedures during the administrative arrests were not respected by [intervention squad] personnel.”
In the letter, the union president writes, “Minors were brutally beaten in the cells, without reaction from the senior officers present. Minors were not directly transferred to their parents. Sometimes they had to wait more than an hour.”
A CGSP spokesperson told De Morgen, “We have to be very careful. We don’t want our police officers, who have been witnesses and of whom some wish to testify, to be held accountable by their colleagues, because we know very well that there is a form of brotherhood within the police force. But this is a good signal.”