Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Flemish prime minister under fire over police killing

  • 'I always mean well with the police and will defend their job with passion, but what I saw in those images is inadmissible, inexplicable and terrible,' Flemish prime minister Jan Jambon said (Photo: Council of the EU)

Flemish prime minister Jan Jambon appeared on Tuesday (1 September) before a Belgian parliamentary committee to explain the arrest and death of Slovak citizen Jozef Chovanec, after Belgian police brutality was revealed in a leaked security footage of the cell where he was held.

Last month, video emerged revealing several police officials brutally pinning down Chovanec in a cell at Charleroi Airport, hours before his death, and an officer giving a Hitler salute. The footage has reopened the debate about the authorities' subsequent response to the incident.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"I was shocked, like everyone else, when I first saw [the video]. I always mean well with the police and will defend their job with passion, but what I saw in those images is inadmissible, inexplicable and terrible, for their colleagues and society as a whole," Jambon said.

However, the Flemish prime minister, who was Belgium's home affairs minister when the 38-year-old Slovak citizen died in 2018, has got himself into hot water due to a "communication error".

Earlier, Jambon, a deputy leader of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA, claimed that he had no knowledge of the facts surrounding Chovanec's death - before then admitting last Saturday that he had been in contact with the Slovak ambassador at the time.

Jambon said he forgot the meeting with the ambassador due to a terror attack that took place at the time in Liege.

Ahead of the ambassadors meeting, his cabinet received a "neutral" and "concise" police report which did not reflect the attitude of the police officers revealed by the surveillance cameras of the airport, Jambon defended.

"Those images never reached me or my cabinet. What I see in those images is intolerable and horrible. [But] it looked completely different two-and-a-half years ago," Jambon told the hearing.

Moreover, he said that the interview with the Slovak ambassador did not provide him with any "alarming" information.

"Apart from that [police] report, I had nothing else," he said.

"There was no reason to doubt about the report. I have no mistrust of the police. Imagine if we lived in such a society? That would be unworkable," he added.

In the report, which was leaked by national media, little can be found about what happened inside the custody cell.

Europol head Catherine De Bolle, who was Belgian police chief in 2018, and her successor Marc De Mesmaeker, were also grilled on Tuesday.

De Bolle told the joint parliamentary committee that she was not informed of the facts, saying that she trusts that the ongoing investigation will reveal why nobody reported the issue to her.

"If I had had the images I would have taken the necessary measures," she said.

De Mesmaeker, whose previous position had no authority over the federal police, said that he did his job "correctly and transparently" - pointing out that the population's trust in the police was at stake.

The images shown by the video have led to an ongoing internal police investigation.

Calls for Jambon resignation

However, opposition parties have been demanding Jambon's resignation over the twists in his account of his role.

The head of the Brussels socialist PS, Ahmed Laaouej, said that the former minister's explanation was "not credible".

Current Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès said on Monday she wants to believe in the good faith of Jambon.

"If he says he has never seen these images, I have no reason to believe that he has seen them," she told LN24.

"A resignation from a position that you have already left is special [but] everyone must take their responsibilities according to what he thinks should be done," she added.

Visual Data

Coronavirus: Will a second wave divide Europe again?

Experts are now warning of the "very serious" surge in Covid-19 cases in Europe - where new weekly cases exceede those reported in March. The worst-hit countries are Spain and France - while Italy is resisting the much-feared second wave.

EU to have first-ever anti-racism coordinator

The European Commission is set to unveil an action plan to fight racism - which will address gaps in existing legislation and extend the list of EU crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium: masks no longer mandatory from October
  2. Report: China built 380 Muslim internment camps
  3. Belgian government formation in final phase
  4. Lukashenko sworn in at secret ceremony
  5. Study: No-deal Brexit more costly than corona for UK
  6. Polish miners in underground protest against energy plan
  7. EU animal farming emits more CO2 than cars
  8. Navalny leaves Berlin hospital after poisoning attempt

Opinion

Why so few women in EU missions?

Angela Merkel is only the seventh woman to chair the Council of the European Union's meetings. And in 2020 there is no woman leading any of the current 11 European civilian missions (let alone the six military operations).

Opinion

On toppling statues

The internationally-acclaimed author of King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild, writes on Belgium's problems with statues, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  2. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  3. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities
  4. EU 'failed' to safeguard civic freedoms during pandemic
  5. The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests
  6. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  7. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  8. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us