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Belgian state faces legal action for police violence at Brussels demonstration

20:51 25/01/2023

Eleven young people along with the Belgian Human Rights League (LDH) are taking the country to court over the use of violence from police against protestors in a demonstration in Brussels on 24 January 2021.

Named in the suit are the Belgian State, the Brussels-Capital Ixelles police zone and the mayor of the City of Brussels due to his position as head of the police zone.

“The demonstration, which aimed to denounce police violence, was severely repressed,” LDH said in a press release.

“Despite being allowed by the mayor of Brussels, it ended with more than 200 arrests. Several people, including minors, testified to illegal and arbitrary arrests, sexist and racist insults and brutality committed by the police, particularly in the barracks of Etterbeek.”

LDH points out that the violence was later acknowledged and denounced by a police union.

“During their arrest, the 11 applicants were mistreated, crammed into police vehicles without any respect for Covid measures and taken to the Etterbeek barracks,” the press release reads.

Conditions at there were said to be poor, with detained demonstrators forbidden from using sanitary facilities and experiencing intimidation.

“The complainants also witnessed physical violence by the police against people who were with them,” LDH said.

“Some were arrested solely on the basis of ethnic profiling, and some had not even participated in the demonstration. They are taking the Belgian state to court because they do not want this violence, which takes the form of arbitrary arrests, to go unpunished.”

In parallel to the civil action from LDH, a criminal action concerning other complainants is still under investigation.

The goal, LDH says, is to “obtain compensation for the damage caused by the various abuses suffered, including ethnic profiling, the use of the trap technique and abuse in the cells”.

They also want to draw attention to the techniques police used – including chokeholds and ‘netting’, which refers to encircling groups of protests – and issues with effective surveillance of police detention facilities.

“According to the European Court of Human Rights, limitations on freedom of movement have to be imposed ‘in accordance with the law’, but in Belgium, however, there is no legal framework for this,” LDH says.

“The Ligue des Droits Humains (Human Rights League) believes that the freedom to demonstrate cannot be restricted in this way and that the legitimacy of this practice should be questioned.”

Robin Bronlet, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told media: “We want a precedent to be set in black and white.”

Written by Helen Lyons