Democracy & Justice

Police Pressure Human Rights Activists and Lawyers Protecting Refugees in Croatia

Croatian civil society organizations and their lawyers have warned that the Ministry of the Interior is pressuring police to disrupt their work.

by Lovorka Šošić

The civil society organizations Are you Syrious? (AYS), the Center for Peace Studies (CPS), and lawyers Sanja Bezbradica Jelavic and Ivo Jelavic held press conference on 18 April to issue a warning about the threatening moves against their work by the Interior Ministry.

Access to attorney denied

Bezbradica Jelavic is an attorney representing a family of Afghan refugees in criminal proceedings against the Ministry of Interior for their responsibility for the tragic death of their 6-year-old daughter, Madina. The lawyer tried to get in touch with the family on numerous occasions following their detention at a center in Tovarnik, which occurred after the family made a formal asylum request.

However, the police have refused to allow the attorney access to the family, claiming that she is not authorized to represent them. Moreover, her office has been visited by the Police National Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (PN USKOK) to investigate the authenticity of the power of attorney document for the Afghan family, claiming that the signatures of Madina’s parents on form are fake.

The Center for Peace Studies has been contacted by Madina's sister, who messaged them to let them know that they had been locked up and refused access to their lawyer. The police then told Madina's family that the power of attorney document was signed in Serbia, and therefore not valid in Croatia regardless of the authenticity of the signatures.

"This kind of police treatment of our clients is a direct obstruction of the attorney's work," Jelavić said during the press conference. He noted that it is very easy to prove if the power of attorney is valid, namely that the attorney and the party meet and the party confirms or refuses the power of attorney - but the police have not allowed for that to happen. He also pointed out that it is particularly worrying that the family tried to contact them several times, but the police prevented them from doing so every time. He says that even in cases of the most serious criminal offenses, the police do not deny contact between attorneys and their clients.

Police have exercised extreme pressure against AYS through criminalizing solidarity.

"When the family entered Croatia to avoid returning to Serbia for the third time, they turned to us to help them seek international protection, after which our volunteer immediately contacted the police and went with the police to meet the family," said Tajana Tadic of AYS.

Suspicious interviews

However, the day after the media circulated information about what was happening to the family, the Ministry of the Interior informed the Are You Syrious? volunteer that they would initiate a misdemeanor procedure against him for allegedly assisting the family in crossing the border illegally.

In addition, immediately after the activists announced their press conference on police pressure and intimidation, the police delivered requests for informal interviews with the activists, scheduled for the exactly the same time as the press conference.

"We consider this to be an inadmissible attempt to intimidate and pressure volunteers, as well as a direct attempt to limit the freedom of expression of human rights activists," said Gordan Bosanac of CPS. "The police have once again showed that they do not hesitate to use repression for their goals. We are afraid that all this is done with the goal of expelling the family out of Croatia, thereby stopping the asylum process."
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