Photo: Predrag Trokicić
Photo: Predrag Trokicić

Two weeks ago, a man with the initials D.D. died in the police station in Bor. He was detained two days prior for up to 48 hours due to suspicion that, after the crime had been committed, he helped his brother, suspected of aggravated murder in the tragic case of the disappearance of a two-year-old girl, D.I.

The sudden death of a relatively young man, only 40 years old, seemed strange and immediately caused doubts. About ten days later, the suspicions were strongly supported by the media, which informed the public about a report from the experts of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Belgrade, after an autopsy performed the day after death, which states that D.D. died as a result of severe beating, the traces of which were clearly visible and described in detail in the findings. As the media reported, that expert report was forwarded to the competent Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Zaječar for further action.

The government did not deny anything that was published. They did not formally confirm anything, either, but the way they didn’t confirm was utterly absurd. At the request of the media, the deputy prosecutor in the competent High Prosecutor’s Office in Zaječar stated, “I cannot tell you whether what the media has published is true because we have not yet received that report. We don’t receive mail on Saturdays, so we expect it next week.”

The Institute for Forensic Medicine did not inform the prosecutor about the findings of the autopsy even two weeks later?! We live in an electronic age, we communicate by phone and e-mail even in matters that do not require any urgency. It is absurd that in the case of a criminal offense with fatal consequences, where the competent public prosecutor had to receive information about the relevant preliminary findings without delay, immediately after the autopsy – he is kept waiting for the report for weeks. Even two centuries ago, a courier on horseback would have needed significantly less than two weeks to bring the report from Belgrade to Zaječar.

Unfortunately, the news about the abuse, or more accurately torture, in itself is not really surprising. Just a few months ago, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published a report on last year’s ad hoc visit to Serbia. The main issues that the visit dealt with (not for the first time) were police treatment of persons deprived of liberty and effective investigations regarding allegations of illegal police treatment. Among other things, the report mentions slapping, kicking, beating with sticks, placing plastic bags on the head, even electric shocks, and highlights the obvious and worrying indolence in conducting investigations in cases of evidently unacceptable behavior by police officers.

Of course, even without a warning from the CPT, it is indisputable that abuse and torture are unacceptable. Our Criminal Code provides for a prison sentence of up to ten years for officials who, even without fatal consequences, commit criminal acts of coercion of testimony (Article 136) or abuse and torture (Article 137)! But it is very rare for such a case to result in any acknowledgement of responsibility, at most merely a symbolic one, while important recommendations of the CPT are persistently ignored, such as effective exercise of the right to the presence of a lawyer and the introduction of systematic audio-visual recording of all interviews conducted by the police.

But this time we are faced with something that, not only because of the fatal consequences, goes far beyond the limits of a single specific case, no matter how painful – this is something much worse than merely “turning a blind eye” to the violation of the law by the police.

Immediately after the death of D.D., the Ministry of Interior issued a press release (mis)informing the public that the suspect died of natural causes, because he “suddenly fell ill” and “despite the timely response of police officers and doctors who attempted resuscitation, he died”. If the expert’s report confirms that he died as a result of a beating and that he had many clearly visible injuries, and it is almost certain that it will, we are dealing with a conscious, deliberate deception of the public in a brazen attempt to cover up a serious crime.

Under normal circumstances and in a normal country, such an attempt would inevitably entail the political and moral responsibility of the person who gave or approved the statement, regardless of how high in the hierarchy of the police or ministry they may be. The fact that this person will not be held accountable confirms that this government has turned the legal definition of the police as a social mechanism that “protects and improves the safety of citizens and property, respecting human and minority rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and other protected values in a democratic society, with the possibility to use means of coercion in accordance with the Constitution and the law”, into a grotesque caricature.

Translated by Marijana Simić

Pešč, 25.04.2024.