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Whistleblowing police officer on hunger strike after threats of termination
Police inspector Eric Claessens has started a hunger strike following what he describes as years of harassment and threats of termination. He is being targeted by police officers and even his superiors, he says, because he filed a complaint against fellow officers for brutality in 2013.
Claessens, 49, was a Brussels metro and railway officer that year when he was involved in the arrest of a man for public urination. In custody, the man was severely beaten by Claessens’ fellow officers. Claessens was tasked with transporting the man to the hospital, and a colleague told him that “what happens among us, stays among us”.
But he was too shocked by the incident to accept that and reported it to his superior. Told to put it behind him, he filed an official complaint against the officers involved in the brutal attack on the man.
That set “a whole vicious system in motion,” he told Le Soir last week when he started his hunger strike. He was transferred often, had his pay cut, and his weapon was confiscated (which he fought in the Council of State and won). The harassment culminated, he said, when he called for back-up during a dangerous encounter and did not get it.
“There was a conflict with a very large, very drunk man, and I knew right away that I would not be able to handle the situation on my own,” he said. Claessens was at North Station, so back-up should have been in the station and quick to respond. “I called on my radio, but no-one showed up. I ended up with a slipped disc and my left leg was paralysed. I was on sick leave for months.”
When he returned to duty, he says, he was stuck in an empty office in a district of Charleroi, without a computer. He is now at home in Villers-la-Ville, threatened with dishonourable termination, which would leave him without his public service pension.
“I have work-related accident files in progress, which would be in danger of falling apart. I would no longer be able to work for the state or any public service. I know no matter how much I would explain and prove my good faith with factual evidence, it would be very, very difficult to find a job. Especially in my condition as my spine and pelvis are affected. Basically, I would find myself destitute.”
In the meantime, Claessens has started communicating with other police officers who have been harassed like him. While they are sympathetic to his hunger strike, no authority has contacted him, he says.
“I’m not surprised about the justice system ignoring this, but I am surprised that no politician has inquired. And of course it’s not surprising that my superiors have not responded since this has been going on for years. For them it’s all about ‘deny, deny, deny’.”
He will stop his hunger strike until he is assured that he will not be fired. “It’s the rotten apples that need to be sacked, not me.”
Photo ©Juliette Bruynseels/BELGA