July 24, 2018 / 10:04 PM / a year ago

Polish police sometimes punch, kick detainees - rights watchdog

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish police sometimes punch and kick detainees, a European rights watchdog said on Wednesday, warning that people arrested in Poland ran an “appreciable risk of being ill-treated”.

The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee said in a report on a 2017 visit to the largest ex-communist EU state that the great majority of interviewees said they had been treated in a correct manner by the police.

“However, the delegation did hear a number of allegations of physical ill-treatment. Most of these allegations referred to excessive use of force at the time of apprehension,” it said, listing slaps, punches, kicks, truncheon blows, using teasers and locking handcuffs too tightly.

“The delegation’s findings ... clearly indicate that persons taken into police custody in Poland continue to run appreciable risk of being ill-treated,” it said.

The Council of Europe has produced annual reports on Poland’s police since 2013 and does similar reports on other major European states.

Poland has seen regular and at times mass street protests against the government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won elections in late 2015 on slogans reflecting national pride and promises of higher social spending.

However, in a response attached to the Council of Europe’s report, Poland’s justice ministry said it had analysed the cases described and that many of them were not substantiated.

“At the current stage it seems ungrounded to formulate such serious allegations of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment of persons apprehended or detained in detention rooms,” it said.

The interior ministry said that the police acted in line with the law, while most Poles trust policemen and praise their work.

“Furthermore, almost 86 percent of Poles feels safe in our country,” the interior ministry said in an emailed reply to a Reuters request for comment. It did not give the origin of this statistic.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets last year in protests against the government’s changes to the Constitutional Tribunal, which the European Union and rights groups have criticised as tightening political control over judges and weakening a key institution of a democratic state.

PiS is now carrying out similar changes to the country’s Supreme Court, which validates election results in Poland. While the protests have dwindled, a picket on Friday outside parliament saw a brief scuffle between protesters and police.

A heavy police presence around anti-government protests has become a regular sight in the capital Warsaw.

The Council of Europe said the problem of ill-treatment by police predated the PiS government.

It was identified in a similar report of the council’s first study visit in 2013, which encouraged whistleblowing to “promote a police culture where it is regarded as unprofessional to work and associate with colleagues who resort to ill-treatment.”

Five years later, the watchdog was forced to reiterate that Poland should “pursue rigorously” efforts to combat ill-treatment by police.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Stephen Powell

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