It is not possible to arrest a person because of his physical appearance

[This is a transcription of a sequence in a videotape shot in the police station in Terezin, Czech Republic on 18 September 2000 during the Stories Exchange Project workshop ARTS OF TOLERANCE.
It is included in the second video documentary about the project: "MY WAY AND HIS WAY: The Stories Exchange Project"]
Cenek RuzickaDirector Romany Holocaust Association of Bohemia
Mr. Officer, one of our participants was stopped by the police in the street. It was Mr. Vishwanathan whose skin is… sort of… darker. He was stopped, he was asked to show his identity card.
He thinks that he was asked to show his documents only because his skin is darker.
We think that such things should not happen here in Terezin.
Officer
May I tell you my opinion? This is misinformation. It is not true that he was brought to the station because his color was different. He was in a place where there is a lot of criminal activity. The police of the Czech Republic have the legal right to ask for documents and check a person. He was checked according to section 13, paragraph 5. He refused to show his documents, so he was taken to the police station.
When all that was necessary was done he was released.
Jana ChalupovaHuman Rights Representative of President Vaclav Havel
If you permit me… we have heard a different explanation. The story we heard was that when Mr.Viswanathan was asked for documents he was told that he resembled a person the police were looking for. This is surely a legal reason. We suppose that it is possible to identify the person he resembles. When you tell us that the reason for his arrest was that he was in a placewhere there is frequent criminal activity… this is not a reason. The only legal reason would be if he were suspected of criminal activity or of breaking the law. And that would have to be clear.
Kumar Vishwanathan
You switched off the phone.
Officer I don’t know anything about that. A telephone was lying here so I gave it to him. I said that we couldn’ t keep it here.
Kumar Vishwanathan
I’m sorry, but your subordinate refused to let me speak with Mr.Uhl when he called. Mr. Uhl asked to speak with me, but your subordinate switched off my phone and put it behind the barrier so that I couldn’t get it. And I said: “Please, my telephone!” He said: “It’s there: you can you can see it.”
But I said: ” It’s my property, you cannot…just give it back to me.”
He did give it back to me, but later. Or rather you did.
Are you responsible for these people? For your subordinates?
Officer
Yes.
Kumar Vishwanathan
Then how could you say that you didn’t know I was there?
Officer
Nobody told me that they had banged you against the wall ..or — I don’t know.
Kumar Vishwanathan
How did they get my ID? Aren’t you interested in finding out?
Officer
I don’t know.
Kumar Vishwanathan
How did they get my telephone? Aren’t you interested in finding out?
Officer
I wasn’t there. I don’t know.
Emilie HorackovaDirector, Romany Cultural CenterMimon
We keep asking questions to find out why we’re in this situation. But we still haven’t got a clear answer.
You keep telling us that you know nothing. But you have the report on your table. You must have read it. You were present, you were doing something.
Answer our questions clearly: don’tsweep them under the table! You are misleading us. You haven’t given us any answers.
We wanted to see a picture of the person you’re looking for. But you’ve shown us nothing; you’ve explained nothing.
You put a man’s face to the wall just because he doesn’t show his ID: you treat him like that! You take his property. You switch his phone off. He is not allowed to make a telephone call.
I think nobody is free in this state if he doesn’t have the right to make a telephone call. Any person has the right to call a lawyer…But you switched it off…
Officer
I didn’t switch anything off…don’t raise your voice, please. If you want to file a complaint. – 
Emilia Horackova
I’m nervous. I have the right….
Petr UhlCzech Government Commissioner of Human Rights
Good morning everyone. My name is Petr Uhl. I am the commissioner for human rights.
I spoke about this matter with the Minister of the Interior.
Of course such a thing arouses one’s emotions. But what I really don’t like is that it was not legal.
He was in a place with a high concentration of criminal activity? Well: Terezin is surely such a place. Or it used to be, fifty or fifty-five years ago.
But this is not a legal reason.
If the policeman knew the law and tried to choose one of four legal reasons …I would say: OK, he broke the law – but at least he knows the law and he knows he must observe it.
But this case is different. We are talking about abusing the law. The police do what they like. Policemen must know the law and when they are breaking it they must admit that they are breaking it and they must not try to hide it.
This is one of the ways of making a step forward.
I told Mr. Ibl [the Minister of the Interior] that I thanked him for intervening—but for me this thing is not over.
Thirty years ago in Britain people who looked like Kumar were arrested twenty times more often than ordinary people. So certain changes were made. Today suchpeople are arrested only two or three times more often…The society has made progress. I would like our society to realize such things and make changes too.
It is not possible to arrest a person because of his physical appearance.

2 Responses to “It is not possible to arrest a person because of his physical appearance”

  1. Your title misses the point. It IS possible, and also it HAPPENS.
    It IS illegal, but it happens.
    Irony will not help. Action will.

  2. I am a full-time campaigner for human rights. My experience tells me that the solution to the racism problem in the Czech Republic depends on the enlightenment of the non-Romany people.
    It is not enough for the government to pass laws.
    The “white” people themselves must be taught to recognise racism for what it is – the ordinary citizens, the teachers, the police, the owners of restaurants and bars and hotels.

    Communists and Christians must accept the one principle – the principle of humanity; atheists and agnostics too must realise that we are all human, and that we depend on each other.

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