The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Shocked reactions to video of police brutality that led to man’s death

19:37 21/08/2020

From the director-general of the federal police to the Human Rights League, Belgian authorities have expressed shock and disgust at the video footage that has emerged of Charleroi Airport police subduing a passenger, who eventually died. The incident happened more than two years ago, leading some to assert that authorities in Charleroi are involved in a cover up.

In February of 2018, Slovakia citizen Jozef Chovanec, 39, boarded a plane back to his country. Passengers report that he appeared confused before the plane took off and was not responding to airline staff’s requests.

He was removed from the plan, and police put him in a cell at the airport. He proceeded to injure himself, causing an open, bleeding wound to his head.

The video footage shows several agents eventually entering the cell, putting a blanket over his head and kneeling on his back for more than 15 minutes.

Officers in the video (below) 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. The exact cause of death has not yet been made public.

The victim’s wife in Slovakia, Henrietta Chovancova, finally went to the press because of the length of time that the investigation has dragged on. “My client wanted to go to the press last year, but I was able to convince her not to,” said the family’s lawyer, Ann Van de Steen. “Because the justice system in Belgium is not generally a very fast process. But the last time I looked at the file, no progress had been made. My client had had enough; she had the feeling that this was being covered up.”

Charleroi’s public prosecutor said that there had indeed been delays but that the investigation was nearly complete. It has been decided, in the meantime, that the police officer that offered the Nazi salute will no longer work with the public.

Neither police unions nor the director-general of the transport police had been informed of the incident prior to the video footage being released this week. “The Nazi salute and dancing is completely unacceptable and inappropriate,” said Vincent Houssin of civil service union SLFP. “We condemn this strongly and also do not remotely understand what the intention behind it was.”

‘Out of his head’

As for the victim, “he is clearly out of his head, he exhibits signs of excited delirium,” said Houssin, referring to a syndrome that causes deliriousness and emotional distress. “He tested negative for drugs and alcohol, so there is clearly something going on here that we don’t know the cause of.”

André Desenfants, director-general of the federal administrative police force, which includes transport police, knew nothing of the incident, he said. “Until yesterday, I didn’t even know that fellow police officers had been charged with anything.”

Desenfants has stepped down from his post, at least temporarily. “I feel that I am hindered in carrying out my mandate, and that this is the responsible thing to do,” he said.

Video still courtesy Euronews

Written by Lisa Bradshaw