Intervention in the case of football hooligans from Świdnik
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights presented to the District Prosecutor in Świdnik Sylwester Woźniak an amicus curiae opinion on the legitimacy of pre-trial detention imposed on K.T., M.S., A.K. and P.P.
Since, according to the Foundation’s standards, the pre-trial detention of the above persons seems to be manifestly groundless, we asked Mr Woźniak to ‘consider lifting the detention order which introduced this, indeed the most severe, preventive measure’.
The story began on 3 April 2011 after the match between Avia Świdnik and Motor Lublin when the Police started arresting the hooligans who breached the peace at the Świdnik railway station, hurling stones and bottles at the officers. This was treated as an aggravated assault on Police officers, an offence under Article 223 of the Polish Penal Code.
However, evidence collected in the case (witness statements and video surveillance tapes) did not confirm that the behaviour of K.T., M.S., A.K. and P.P. had in fact satisfied the criteria of that crime. The evidence showed that the defendants were present in a group of people throwing stones but only waved their arms and screamed, remaining passive observers of the unfolding events. The District Court denied the motion for pre-trial detention. Yet, the Circuit Court reversed the first-instance court decision and issued the detention order.
The Foundation expressed the opinion that the sole presence among a group of individuals hurling stones and screaming did not constitute an aggravated assault on Police officers. The strong likelihood of commission of the crime, cited by the Circuit Court as a rationale for pre-trail detention, has no factual substantiation.
The other limb of the pre-trial detention legal test, namely the prospect of a harsh penalty being imposed on the defendants, if found guilty, has not been satisfied either as according to Ministry of Justice statistics on final sentences imposed on adults in 2002-2008, in 2008 only 16.7% of the individuals found guilty of the offence under Article 233 had been imprisoned and as few as nine people (1.8% of this category) were sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than two years. At the same time, a majority of offenders sentenced under this article in 2008 (59.3%) were sentenced to up to two years of imprisonment.
It must be noted that having received a previous opinion submitted by the HFHR, the court lifted the detention order against M.K. and J.G., other defendants in the same case, remanding them on bail.