Covering events from January - December 2002
REPUBLIC OF AUSTRIA
Head of state: Thomas Klestil
Head of government: Wolfgang Schüssel
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified
The trial of three police officers charged with the 1999 death of asylum-seeker Marcus Omofuma took place. Allegations of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force against detainees persisted. An unarmed man suffering from mental health difficulties was shot dead by police. Certain categories of asylum-seekers were excluded from state-run accommodation centres. Austria equalized the age of consent for gay men with that for heterosexuals and lesbians.
Marcus Omofuma case
On 4 March the trial of the three police officers accused of ill-treating Marcus Omofuma resulting in his death opened at Korneuburg Regional Court in Vienna. The 25-year-old Nigerian asylum-seeker suffocated on 1 May 1999 after being gagged and bound during his forced deportation from Vienna to Nigeria, via Bulgaria. On 15 April Korneuburg Regional Court found the three police officers guilty of the lesser crime of "negligent manslaughter in particularly dangerous conditions" and sentenced them to eight-month suspended prison terms. The sentence was criticized by some civil society groups because of its alleged leniency, which also permitted the officers to continue serving in the police force.
Allegations of police ill-treatment
There were a number of allegations that police officers ill-treated and used excessive force against detainees. In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about "allegations of racist incidents involving police officers and other State employees".
- On 17 October Vienna's Independent Administrative Tribunal found that police had insulted, degraded and excessively treated human rights activist Bülent Öztoplu, who is of Turkish origin, during a police operation in Vienna in September 2001. A group of armed police officers from the WEGA special police detachment arrested Bülent Öztoplu, a member of the national Human Rights Advisory Board, on an outstanding international arrest warrant relating to an incident alleged to have occurred in Mannheim, Germany, in 1984. The Tribunal found that, while in police custody, an officer had verbally abused Bülent Öztoplu as a "dirty bastard" when informing a colleague that the detainee was a member of the Human Rights Advisory Board. It also found that officers had needlessly subjected Bülent Öztoplu to a strip search. Bülent Öztoplu was acquitted of all charges by a court in Mannheim in December. He had not been reinstated to the Human Rights Advisory Board, from which he was suspended shortly after his arrest, by the end of the year.
- A 25-year-old Congolese national, Kambowa Mutombo, was allegedly ill-treated and racially abused by police officers during an identity check in Vienna on 15 March. Police officers were alleged to have grabbed hold of Kambowa Mutombo and forced him to the ground after he objected to being referred to as a "stupid nigger", and kicked him as he lay on the street. Kambowa Mutombo also alleged that police officers laughed at him and made disparaging comments as he stood naked before them during a strip-search at Favoriten police station in Vienna.
AI urged the authorities to initiate a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Binali Ilter on a street in the centre of Vienna on 31 August. At the time of the shooting he was unarmed and suffering from schizophrenia. Binali Ilter, an Austrian national of Kurdish origin, had left his home earlier in the day and walked barefoot into the city centre. During the afternoon he was involved in an incident in a shop during which he hit a sales assistant in the face, after unsuccessfully demanding money from her. Police intercepted Binali Ilter in the city centre, but he failed to respond to their repeated warnings to stop. A police officer shot him in the shoulder and stomach after Binali Ilter reportedly shouted and stepped towards him. Binali Ilter died in hospital later the same day.
On 4 June Vienna-Fünfhaus District Court acquitted a police officer of the negligent killing of an unarmed criminal suspect, Imre Bartos, in Vienna in May 2000. The court ruled there was doubt in the case. Imre Bartos was shot by the police officer, who was trying to open the door of a vehicle, controversially using a privately owned firearm. The court reportedly ruled that the shooting occurred as a result of an unintended gripping reflex of the hand in which his gun was held as he opened the door of the vehicle. Imre Bartos' two sons also lodged a complaint with Vienna's Independent Administrative Tribunal, which had not been ruled upon by the end of the year.
There was widespread concern about a new asylum regulation, introduced by the Ministry of the Interior on 1 October, which excludes certain categories of asylum-seekers from state-run accommodation centres. Under the regulation asylum-seekers from European Union accession countries face eviction and exclusion from such accommodation centres during the processing of their asylum application, potentially rendering them destitute. Asylum-seekers from certain other countries also face eviction if they appeal against an unsuccessful initial application. The new policy put considerable pressure on national relief organizations, which were forced to support evicted and excluded asylum-seekers.
Danger of refoulement
In early January AI opposed the extradition of 35-year-old Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman Bilasi-Ashri to Egypt, where he was at serious risk of torture and other human rights violations. He fled Egypt in 1994 fearing political persecution and applied for asylum in Austria in 1995. Following an unfair trial in Egypt he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years' hard labour in late 1995 in connection with his alleged affiliation to an Islamist group. Although his asylum application was still pending, he was taken into custody by police in Vienna in October 2001 following an extradition request from the Egyptian authorities. Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman Bilasi-Ashri's extradition was prevented, although he remained in prison in Vienna until his release in August. At the end of the year his application for asylum had not been resolved.
Unequal age of consent
On 24 June Austria's Constitutional Court ruled that the country's unequal age of consent for gay men was unconstitutional. Less than a month later, parliament voted to remove the offending article from the criminal code. While AI welcomed the move, it remained concerned that the legislative change did not apply to ongoing criminal cases and no rehabilitation was envisaged for gay men already convicted under the law, such as the erasure of their criminal records.
AI country visits
An AI delegate visited Austria in October to meet lawyers and victims of alleged human rights violations.
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