Amnesty accuses Romanian police of preying on gypsies

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The Independent Online

Police brutality is still systematic in Romania more than 10 years after the fall of President Nicolae Ceausescu, and officers single out Romas, or gypsies for rough treatment, Amnesty International says.

Police brutality is still systematic in Romania more than 10 years after the fall of President Nicolae Ceausescu, and officers single out Romas, or gypsies for rough treatment, Amnesty International says.

Routinely, police fire on unarmed suspects, even when they pose no threat to police or bystanders, and Romanian law condones the use of guns on unarmed suspects, the civil liberties group reports.

On 18 May, a plainclothes officer shot Mugurel Soare, a 20-year-old gypsy, point blank in the head. Police say Mr Soare was armed with a knife and had wounded an officer in the chest. They say he was hit accidentally in a scuffle with the policeman, who was trying to fire a warning shot. But Amnesty says a witness claims Mr Soare was unarmed and that police already had him under control. One officer was beating Mr Soare and deliberately shot him. The gypsy spent five days in a coma, and is permanently paralysed on his right side.

Amnesty says police held witnesses for 10 hours and tried to intimidate them into giving false accounts.

On 21 May, the report says, police shot at two gypsy men trying to escape arrest in a car. One, Petre Letea, was killed.

On 27 October last year, police allegedly shot dead Radu Marian, a 40-year-old gypsy who was a suspected cigarette smuggler, when he tried to run from them. Two other men trying to escape were wounded.

In two separate incidents in May, Romanian coastguards fired on Turkish fishing boats illegally fishing in Romanian waters, Amnesty reports.

The civil liberties group says Romanian law allows police to fire in these situations. The UN's basic principles on the use of firearms by police specify that they should be used only when there is serious danger to police or bystanders, and there is no other course of action.

Amnesty claims Romanian law is in direct contravention of the country's obligations under international treaties to which it is a signatory.

The organisation believes "the over-representation of Roma among the shooting victims is part of a pattern of state abuse and neglect of Roma". There are more than 1.8 million gypsies in Romania, the European Roma Rights Centre says.

A second Amnesty report focuses on the high number of complaints of ill-treatment made about a new emergency police intervention unit.

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