Vietnamese immigrants feel force of German police brutality: Berlin's officers stand accused of systematic racism, writes Adrian Bridge

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The Independent Online
WHEN Ha van Anh saw the leather gloves, a spasm of fear shot through his by now naked body. Before him stood a stocky man in a police uniform. He had a sinister glint in his eye.

The beating lasted 20 minutes. Mr Anh, a Vietnamese asylum seeker in Germany, lost count of kicks and punches from the officer and an accomplice. At the end of it, he had bruises all over him, one broken tooth and a pain in his cheek that was not going to go away for a month. He also had a 1,000 German mark ( pounds 410) fine - for selling cut-price cigarettes illegally smuggled into Germany from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

'A typical case,' said Magnar Hirschberger of the Berlin-based Reistrommel organisation, set up to provide help and advice for about 12,000 Vietnamese who remained from the tens of thousands invited to Communist East Germany as 'guest' workers. 'But there have been worse. Far more severe beatings, several cases of sexual harrassment, an attempted poisoning, two suspicious deaths.'

In Reistrommel's cramped east Berlin office, is a grim collection of first hand accounts of police brutality meted out to Vietnamese. Mr Anh's statement, which was subsequently verified, refers to his treatment at the hands of the police in Bernau, north of Berlin. Most of the cabinet's contents, however, contain allegations concerning the Berlin police. The organisation claims evidence of widespread xenophobia within the police force. 'There is a racist undercurrent in the police which, at its most extreme, expresses itself violently,' claims Mr Hirschberger.

Allegations of brutality against the Berlin police have mounted this year. Last week, Dieter Heckelmann, the controversial Interior Minister for Berlin, admitted that 46 of its police officers are being investigated in connection with accusations of causing bodily harm and of receiving stolen goods (or confiscating smuggled cigarettes and keeping them). Twelve of the officers have been suspended from duty.

He denied any suggestion that racist violence was institutionalised within the Berlin police, insisting instead that the allegations related to individuals and isolated incidents.

As Norbert Schmidt, a spokesman for Mr Heckelmann, put it: 'We have 30,000 police officers in Berlin, the vast majority of whom would never commit such acts. Any instance of racist violence in the police must be deplored. But this has to be kept in proportion.'

Most attempts to bring charges of brutality against the German police end in failure as those accused frequently justify any violence by claiming self defence.