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Protest against police violence after Charleroi death in custody
About 50 people joined a demonstration against police violence in Brussels on Saturday in response to the death of a Slovak man in police custody at Charleroi airport.
While the incident happened in February 2018, CCTV video footage only emerged this month, showing several officers putting a blanket over 39-year-old Jozef Chovanec's head and kneeling on his back for more than 15 minutes.
The police in the video can be seen laughing and doing dance moves. At one point, one officer makes a Nazi salute towards the cell door.
Chovanec was eventually given a sedative and suffered a heart attack. He was taken to hospital, where he died in a coma a few days later.
Demonstrators gathered on Boulevard de Waterloo, close to the Justice Palace and other federal justice ministry buildings, to call for better police training - and for the political world to strongly condemn what happened.
One protester told RTL: "When I saw the video, I had the same reaction as when I saw that of George Floyd in the United States."
Another added: "They want us to believe that these acts only occur in the United States. These are no longer isolated cases. It's starting to scare us. We no longer feel safe and protected by our police."
Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon (pictured above), who was Belgium's interior minister at the time, said he had not been aware of the severity of the case.
Shortly after the incident, the foreign affairs ministry asked Jambon's office for further details on the case, after Slovakia's ambassador in Brussels demanded answers from the government.
Jambon said the information his office had at the time did not indicate any police misconduct. "The police report received at the time indicated that there was some tension, but showed no obvious errors during the arrest.
"In 2018, we were not aware that the CCTV footage existed. These terrible pictures only appeared this summer. When I saw them, I was like everyone else.
"I immediately asked myself: 'Do I remember anything about this?'. But what I saw in these pictures was new."
The case was soon passed on to Belgium's independent police complaints watchdog, Comité P. "No error was made in the handling of this case," Jambon said.
He is due to give further evidence to the federal parliament's interior and justice committees this Tuesday, alongside Belgium's current and previous commissioner general of the federal police.
The victim’s wife in Slovakia finally went to the press because of the length of time that the investigation has dragged on. Charleroi’s public prosecutor said that there had indeed been delays but that the investigation was nearly complete.
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga