Reports were received of ill-treatment by police officers.

In January Václav Havel was re-elected President for a second five-year term. Following general elections in June, Miloß Zeman, leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party, was appointed Prime Minister.

In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considered the initial and second reports of the Czech Republic. In its conclusions the Committee expressed concern about the six-fold increase in racially motivated crimes between 1994 and 1996, and about reports that the authorities have not been "sufficiently active in effectively countering racial violence against members of minority groups". In view of the reported cases of harassment and of excessive use of force by the police against minority groups, especially against members of the Romani community (see Amnesty International Report 1996), the Committee called for improved training of law enforcement officials in the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In May police officers reportedly beat dozens of people following a demonstration through the centre of the capital, Prague, by around 3,000 people supporting environmental and left-wing youth groups. Demonstrators and passers by were among the victims. The police action, which was in response to a number of violent incidents, began as the demonstrators were dispersing. Some of the demonstrators, including many who were reportedly not involved in any violence, were trapped by police vehicles in Vodickova Street where around 100 police officers reportedly beat them with truncheons and kicked them.

Police officers forced about 50 young people suspected of participating in the demonstration to lie on the pavement or to stand against a wall and reportedly kicked and hit them with truncheons. They were then taken into the basement of the police headquarters building in Bartolomejská Street, where many of the detainees were reportedly kicked and beaten by police officers. Some were forced to kneel facing a wall with their hands held above their heads. They were reportedly put into small cells and denied access to toilets. According to reports they were not permitted to contact a lawyer or inform a relative or a third party of their whereabouts. During the night the detainees were driven in groups of 10 to the police hospital Na Mícánkách, where many were ill-treated before and after medical examinations, which were reportedly aimed solely at establishing whether the detainees were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They were then returned to Bartolomejská Street police station andinterrogated. Twenty-seven of the detainees were under investigation for hooliganism, assault of a public official and destruction of property, but according to reports investigations of 18 detainees were subsequently closed for lack of evidence. One detainee was still in pre-trial detention at the end of the year. Nine of the detainees were held for three weeks; the others were released. The Ministry of the Interior stated that the conduct of the police officers involved had been legal and that force had only been used to restrain detained suspects.

In July Amnesty International urged Otokar Motejl, the Minister of Justice, to ensure that the investigation into the reported ill-treatment of detainees on Vodickova Street, in Bartolomejská Street police station, and at the police hospital was conducted promptly and impartially. Amnesty International also urged the Czech authorities to provide information about investigations into two similar incidents of reported police ill-treatment in 1996 and 1997.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.