Detained migrants make fresh claims of abuse at detention centers

Charges filed against three police officers over beating but judge shelves case

A police officer monitors detainees at a Madrid migrant detention center.
A police officer monitors detainees at a Madrid migrant detention center.GORKA LEJARCEGI

Around 9pm on December 10, 2013 a Senegalese man being held at an internment center for non-documented foreigners in Madrid says that he asked a police officer for a light - detainees are not allowed matches or lighters. "Get out of here you black shit, you son of a bitch," the guard reportedly told the man.

Another detainee being held in the center, a Ghanaian using the name Baba, witnessed the scene and told the guard: "This gentleman deserves some respect, and you should respect the uniform you wear." Upon which, the guard was joined by several others, who allegedly used their nightsticks to beat Baba, who was subsequently taken to hospital with a shoulder injury. The man reported the incident to the Madrid public prosecutor's office, which then opened an investigation.

On December 16, the prosecutor's office filed criminal charges against the three officers for treating a detainee in a degrading manner, mistreatment and insulting behavior. Eleven detainees were questioned by public attorneys, eight of whom said that several officers had injured two other immigrants that week.

None of the men held at the center who had reported the prior incident were involved, and all were of different nationalities. But their stories matched. They confirmed Baba's version of events, saying that after his alleged beating he was then locked in an isolation cell.

One detainee was beaten and pulled down the stairs feet first in handcuffs

The morning after the incident, several detainees refused to take breakfast in protest at what they say happened. They identified two police officers that habitually work the night shift, describing them as "difficult."

Internment centers for non-documented foreigners are used to hold migrants who have committed offenses, but instead of being sent to prison, have agreed to be deported. The centers are also used to hold people who have committed no offense other than not having their papers in order. Baba, aged 39, is among the latter.

The authorities in the city where he resides, and where he has been on the electoral register since 2005, confirm that he has settled in Spain. He has no criminal convictions on his record.

He was arrested on November 11 after police officers judged his documents to be insufficient, and he was taken to an internment center.

Centers also hold people for simply not having their papers in order

He says that while the officers were attacking him, one of them pressed a leg against his neck to immobilize him. When they had finished, he was handcuffed behind his back, and one of the officers then dragged him by the legs down a stairway, reportedly telling him: "You are going to die here."

After the alleged incident, the Ghanaian was taken to the emergency department of a hospital in central Madrid. However, the medical service at the internment center refused to provide him with a report of his injuries. It took 16 days, and a court order, for doctors at the center to provide the report.

The officers deny mistreating Baba, and have filed a complaint against him, accusing him of threatening behavior. They say that both he and the Senegalese man began insulting them, and then attacked them, with Baba taking on seven of them, using a door jamb in the process.

One of the officers had to make a visit to hospital for treatment the following day.

The judge overseeing the case heard evidence from five officers, two of whom retracted their initial statements. The other three have stuck to their version of events. On the same day, the judge said the three would face further questioning.

The judge also requested to see closed circuit camera footage from the internment center, but was told that there were no images for the night in question.

Earlier this month, the judge suspended his investigation and said that the three officers would not face further questioning. In a brief note, he said that the alleged injuries that Baba inflicted on the officers could not be considered criminal acts, and were simply misdemeanors.

Meanwhile, the men who say they witnessed the incident are to be deported. Of the five mentioned in the public prosecutor's report, only two remain in Spain. Baba has since been released after spending 59 days in detention. The government has not been able to deport him as yet.

Madrid's internment centers for undocumented foreigners have been criticized for their poor living conditions, and face accusations of violence by police officers against detainees. In December 2011, Samba Martine, a Congolese woman being held in Madrid, died after repeatedly complaining of pain. Eventually she was taken to hospital, where doctors discovered that she had AIDS.

Three courts tasked with overseeing the Madrid detention center have repeatedly highlighted the poor conditions there, saying that detainees are kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

The UN's Council on Human Relations has criticized the arrest of Moroccan national Adnam El Hadj, saying that he was insulted, mistreated and tortured, as well as subjected to racist abuse.

The two judges overseeing the Barcelona detention center for undocumented foreigners have said that they will be demanding improvements to the installations and the way that detainees are guarded.

The judges visited the center after an Armenian man, Alik Manukyan, died there. The police say that he committed suicide, but three men being held there say that he was attacked by police officers shortly before his death.