Torture of Aleksandar Pejanović must not remain unpunished

Aleksandar Pejanović, our fellow citizen, was brutally beaten twice by, according to information from the criminal trial, members of the special intervention police unit while in the police detention unit in Podgorica known as Betonjerka, between the 31 October and the 2 November of 2008. Court experts (three of them) recorded a combination of 19 heavy and light injuries on his entire body.

After five years and eleven months of trial, on 9 October 2014, just three weeks before the criminal prosecution was to become time barred, the High court in Podgorica reached a final verdict stating that the three police officers in charge of securing Pejanović in “Betonjerka“ had committed a criminal offence of Ill-treatment through assistance and sentenced them with three months of prison each. Those police officers opened the prison doors to the members of the special unit who had come in to beat Pejanović, i.e. they did nothing to stop them, and did not report what had happened. By the end of the trial, all three convicted officers, as well as the other two who were acquitted in the meantime, claimed that during the disputed period nothing suspicious had happened and that Pejanović had not been hurt at all. Police officer Goran Stanković was the only one who testified that the ill-treatment did happen and that it was “ordered from above”. This man, the only known “whistle-blower” of the Montenegrin police does not work there anymore. He claims that he abandoned his office because of the pressures and threats on his security.

Although the court found the three police officers guilty for enabling the beating and taking no actions to prevent it, it decided to sentence them at a minimum – with three months of prison, although it could have imposed penalties of up to three years. The court thus acted contrary to international standards and the explicit recommendation of the Committee against Torture (CAT) to Montenegro that the sentences must be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. Moreover, if the convicted officers are to behave well in prison, there is a good chance they will stay there for only two months, and that is unless some new Pardon law is adopted by the Montenegrin Parliament, or they are pardoned by the President of state Filip Vujanović.

Can anyone seriously expect that such a lenient sentence would persuade other officers to refuse to comply with unlawful orders to terrorize citizens? Is this a way of encouraging the citizens to report police ill-treatment?

Let us not forget that in 2009 the Internal Control Unit (ICD) of the Police, led by Zoran Tomčić (now the Director of Forensics Centre of the Police Directorate), found that the police officers have not overstepped their authority in this case, thus obviously protecting the criminals in the police, which represents a criminal offence just like the offence for which the three officers have been convicted.

Six years after the crime was committed it is still unknown who ordered the beating of Pejanović, or who the members of the special police intervention unit that executed this order were. We are quite sure that all of them still work at the police, under the authority of the Police Director Slavko Stojanović and under the auspices of the Minister Raško Konjević, who have done nothing (known to the public) to punish the thugs or those who ordered the beating.

Additional concern is that senior public officials – Prime Minister Milo Đukanović and the former Police Director Veselin Veljović (now advisor to the President on defence and security) obstructed the investigation, because they never acted on the orders of the prosecutor to submit a list of members of the intervention unit who were on duty at the time when the crime was committed.

However, as noticed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the fact that the Prime Minister and the Police director failed to cooperate does not mean that the competent State Prosecutor – Ljiljana Klikovac (recently appointed to the Head of the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office) was supposed to instantly give up on further investigation, instead of making an effort to obtain the information in question through issuing of a search warrant, prosecuting those who obstructed the investigation, hearing all members of the intervention unit etc. We would like to remind that the CPT requested detailed comments of the Montenegrin authorities on these points, but the Government disregarded this (please see below).

Since it was finally determined that the crime related to late Aleksandar Pejanović within the police premises did occur, and that both the thugs and the ordering party remained unpunished, the Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stanković should put further investigation of this case on the top of his priority list, in order to establish the trust in rule of law in Montenegro. When the perpetrators of the crimes are police officers, the State Prosecutor’s Office is solely responsible for ensuring an impartial investigation. Mr. Stanković should also determine responsibility of the competent state prosecutor’s office for the ineffective processing of this case.

Human Rights Action, Tea Gorjanc-Prelević, executive director

Centre for Civic Education, Daliborka Uljarević, executive director

Institute Alternative, Stevo Muk, president of the managing board

APPENDIX 1:

Persons who were competent for prosecution of the responsible persons at the time the crime was committed still occupy the same positions, or have been even promoted to higher positions in the civil service:

– Milo Đukanović, former and current Prime Minister, the director of the Police Directorate reported directly to him, not he Minister of Interior Affairs at the time when this crime was committed (Police Directorate became part of the Ministry of Interior Affairs in 2012);

– Ljiljana Klikovac, former Basic State Prosecutor, whose work was criticized by CPT in its report, has been recently appointed to the Head of the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office; The Supreme State Prosecutor at the time when the crime was committed, from April 2008 to April 2013, was Ranka Čarapić;

– Veselin Veljović, former director of the Police Directorate, now covers the position of Advisor on defence and security to the President Filip Vujanović;

– Zoran Tomčić, former head of the Internal Control Unit of the Police, current Director of Forensics Centre of Police Directorate.

APPENDIX 2:

An excerpt from the report of the CPT on its visit to Montenegro in 2013, in relation to the case of Pejanović (HRA translation to Montenegrin), original document available at: http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/mne/2014-16-inf-eng.html

NOTE: Immediately after the publication of the report, on 22 May 2014, HRA requested from the Government of Montenegro to translate the report into Montenegrin and publish it on its website, but this has not been done to date. Also, the Government has never provided detailed replies to the question of the CPT regarding this case, or at least it has not published these replies as a part of other replies to the report.

CPT report on the visit to Montenegro, paragraph 20: “In the course of the 2013 visit, the delegation examined one particular case concerning the alleged beating of X in November 2008 at Podgorica Police Detention Unit.

X was apprehended by the police on 30th October 2008 following his participation in mass street protests in Podgorica, and transferred to the police detention unit known as “Betonjerka”. According to different testimonies, an unidentified group of some ten masked police officers from the special intervention unit entered his cell on two occasions (between 31 October and 2 November 2008) and subjected him to kicks, punches and blows with truncheons. He was seen by a doctor following his release from police custody on 5 November 2008 and a combination of 19 heavy and light injuries were recorded on his entire body (and later confirmed by a court appointed forensic expert). The Podgorica District Prosecutor initially launched an investigation on 6 November 2008 and issued an indictment on 1 September 2009 for torture and ill-treatment against six officers who had been on duty with custodial tasks in the detention unit during the period when X was in police custody. In the course of the trial at the Podgorica District Court, one of the accused officers stated that the ill-treatment of X had been “ordered from above” and that it was inflicted on two occasions by unidentified members of the intervention police. The Podgorica District Prosecutor requested the Director of Police on 15 June 2010, and on two other occasions directly the Prime Minister himself, to indicate the names of the officers from the intervention police who were on duty on 31 October and 2 November 2008. However, the delegation was informed by the Podgorica District Prosecutor that no reply was ever received to any of those requests. And, as far as the delegation could ascertain, this is where the matter was left.

The Committee also notes that the Internal Control Unit (ICD) of the Police concluded in March 2009 that none of the police officers involved in the alleged beating of X had overstepped their authority.

Clearly, the above conclusions as well as the unwillingness of the senior officials concerned to provide the prosecution service with information it needed for a criminal investigation is of great concern. At the same time, it can be asked whether the prosecution service had no other means at its disposal to obtain the information in question (e.g. through the issuing of a search warrant). The CPT would like to receive the detailed comments of the Montenegrin authorities on these points.

The response of the Government of Montenegro, Ministry of Interior Affairs:

„There is a court proceeding before the High Court in Podgorica against three police officers who are suspected to have physically abused X. Following the appeal made to the high court, the Basic Court came to a liberating verdict for the police officers in question. The case has been forwarded to the High Court resulting in the suspension of the officers who will remain so until the closure of the case”.

APPENDIX 3:

Statement of Dalibor Kavarić, representative of deceased Pejanović and his family

In relation to the decision of the High Court in Podgorica, which upheld the conviction of the Basic Court in Podgorica against three police officers for beating of Aleksandar Pejanović, while being in custody at the police station in Podgorica, so called: Betonjerka (Concrete cell), from 31 October to 2 November 2008, I underline:

The lowest rank and least accountable police officers who did not have a strong enough protection to be released, were sentenced for this offense. The fact is that police officers Leković, Kljajević and Paunović did not directly beat Pejanović. Still, the nature of their term of office was not giving them a privilege to be observers of this event, they had to take all measures and actions to prevent the beating. Although officers Leković, Kljajević and Paunović were not direct perpetrators but practically a collateral damage in the event, their responsibility lies in their silence and concealment of direct perpetrators, by which they tried to help the perpetrators, and in that manner they agreed with their actions of beatings.

What in this event does not leave the impression that justice is served is the fact that those who in the dark, savagely beat a defenseless man still remain to work undisturbed for the police and they are still able to beat up people, because the practice and experience undoubtedly testifies that a criminal, although influenced by certain circumstances temporarily placates, but in the end, always repeats his crime. Also, the impression of justice is being grossly spoiled with the fact that those who are able to design and order this heinous crime continue to wear uniforms and are protected by their anonymity and mixed with other police officers thus with their further work and stay in the police they burden the same police, forcing on it the mortgage of a services in which such abomination could happen.

Until cold-blooded criminals who ordered and executed the crime against Aleksandar Pejanovic are discovered and prosecuted, this will affect the way people perceive vast majority of honest police officers, who will be subject to the interpretation that they are ready to commit such deeds.

Dalibor Kavarić, lawyer

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