Sunday, February 17, 2002

Amnesty Internattional report for 2001

There were reports of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in ''sobering-up'' centres. The authorities appeared to condone the ill-treatment of new recruits to the army. Some Roma were inadequately protected from racist violence.

Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment
There was concern that a 1982 law which allows people to be held for up to 24 hours in ''sobering-up centres'' was used by police officers to detain people arbitrarily. Under this law, detention is not subjected to judicial review. Many of those detained under this law complained that they were ill-treated by officers working in the centres, but investigations appeared to have been conducted only in cases of grave injury or death in custody.

In April the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the detention of Witold Litwa had been in violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Witold Litwa had been arrested by police officers in a post office in Kraków in May 1994, following a complaint by postal clerks that he was drunk and behaving offensively. He was then taken by police officers to a ''sobering-up'' centre where he was beaten by police officers and ill-treated by staff.
In May, 28-year-old Robert M. was stopped by police at a railway station in Warsaw and taken to the ''sobering-up'' centre in Kolska Street. According to the police, he was so drunk he could not travel on his own. It later came to light that he had a relatively low level of alcohol in his blood and that during a medical examination he had been conscious, in good physical condition with a normal pulse and blood pressure. In the morning he was taken unconscious to a hospital where he died following an operation in which a haematoma was removed from his brain. The doctor who operated on him reportedly said: ''He didn't stand a chance. If he was conscious on entering the 'sobering-up centre', his injuries must have happened there.'' An investigation into Robert M.'s death was reportedly under way at the end of the year.

Army recruits
The humiliation and abuse of new recruits was believed to be endemic in the army. The Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights expressed concern that military commanders failed to tackle the routine ill-treatment of younger soldiers.
In February Polish television broadcast a documentary film about the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade, based at Tomaszów Mazowiecki. The documentary showed non-commissioned officers tormenting conscripts with verbal abuse, and humiliating them during training. In April, two corporals of this brigade were reportedly convicted by a military court for forcing two conscripts who were caught smoking to perform press-ups while wearing gas masks containing 10 lighted cigarettes.
In February, seven former senior conscripts went on trial before the Szczecin Garrison Court for forcing younger colleagues to ''play sheep'', which involved crawling around on the floor and hitting their heads against the wall. Junior conscripts were also forced to wear dog collars and walk on a lead, and were undressed and sexually assaulted.

In June the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern about racially motivated violence against Roma. The Commission noted that according to some reports, the police response to such acts was slow and investigations inadequate. The Commission also expressed concern about allegations of police violence and called on the authorities to investigate all alleged malpractice and to punish offenders.
In August, in Tarnów, two masked men broke into the home of Agata Ciureja, a 32-year-old Romani mother of six, and attacked her with an axe, causing injuries which required hospitalization. Agata Ciureja told a local Romani organization that she believed that the attackers were members of a group of about 20 skinheads who had broken into her apartment about three weeks previously, in an attempt to scare her out of the neighbourhood. At the time the police detained two suspects who were subsequently released. Following the second attack Agata Ciureja went into hiding.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Finance scandal rocks Poland

The head of Poland's biggest oil company has been arrested, as part of an insider-trading scandal that has gripped the country's political and financial communities.
Andrzej Modrzejewski, chief executive of PKN Orlen, was sacked on Friday after being detained a day earlier on charges of financial wrongdoing.

According to a prosecutor's representative, Mr Modrzejewski is accused of insider trading and disclosure of confidential information

His detention and charges happened less than 24 hours before the meeting of the supervisory board of PKN, of which the state owns a 28% share.

The affair has taken on a political aspect, as government critics it of having cooked up the charges, in order to force Mr Modrzejewski to step down.

The government has made several previous attempts to oust Mr Modrzejewski, dubbing him incompetent.


Mr Modrzejewski described the detention as a pure provocation and said that the accusations concerned his activity four years ago, when he worked for a large investment fund.

The ousted CEO calls the charges provocation

The company has accused the state of manipulating the supervisory board, and referred to similar cases in January and September 2001, when reports on investigations of Orlen's financial activity coincided with board meetings.

Both charges were dropped afterwards, the company said.

The Treasury Ministry, which is in charge of state stakes in firms, denied the allegations.

"My advice would be to refrain from insinuations in statements by a company which is an economic entity and not an entity pursuing politics. It looks like someone overshot the mark," Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek.

Mr Modrzejewski was appointed to PKN in 1999 under the previous, right-wing government and, as Polish media reports, supported a right party, which have lost to the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance during the parliamentary elections in September 2001.

Volatile emerging markets in East Europe are extremely sensitive to scandals around large companies, which are usually involved in domestic politics.

Saturday, February 02, 2002

News extra

Polish police hold health workers over alleged murder of patients
Katka Krosnar Prague

Polish police have detained seven people including doctors and paramedics on suspicion of being involved in a scam in which patients were killed and their bodies sold to undertakers.

They are investigating claims that ambulance crews in Lodz, 110 km from Warsaw, deliberately delayed the arrival of emergency vehicles at patients’ homes or at hospitals, leaving patients to die, and even administered drugs that speeded up the deaths of seriously ill patients, in return for bribes. It is thought the practice could have been going on for years and that hundreds of deaths could be involved.

The claims, which have shocked the people of Poland, first emerged in a local newspaper report that alleged that funeral parlours in Lodz had paid up to Ј300 ($420; Ђ490) to be notified of a death and that some medical workers might have facilitated death to collect the reward.

According to the claims, physicians also allegedly received bribes of between Ј200 and Ј300 per corpse from funeral homes, in exchange for persuading bereaved relatives to choose those businesses.

"What the media have reported are facts. Months of work by police has confirmed signs of unlawful and inhumane acts by emergency first aid workers and funeral parlours," said Lodz police spokesman Jaroslaw Berger. He added that police had gathered "substantial evidence" to support the allegations and that the first charges could be filed within days.

The Polish health ministry said that some ambulance crews had used "extraordinarily high amounts" of the muscle relaxant drug pancuronium bromide (Pavulon). The ministry has now banned ambulance workers from using the drug and has ordered an investigation into its use.

Police spokeswoman Joanna Kacka told the BMJ that seven people had been questioned on suspicion of corruption and involvement in a serious crime and that the number could rise. Although no charges of murder have yet been brought, she emphasised that the investigation was still ongoing. It is understood that the group includes two doctors, but Ms Kacka did not confirm this.

She did not deny reports that ambulance crews administered pancuronium bromide to speed up patients’ deaths before tipping off funeral service providers in return for bribes.

Ms Kacka said that police were now considering exhuming the bodies of people who had died in ambulances.

The former head of Lodz’s ambulance service told the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that he was aware that the practice of selling information about deaths existed but denied personal involvement.

Health minister Mariusz Lapinski insisted that the incidents were isolated and that similar practices did not occur in other parts of the country. In the neighbouring Czech Republic it has also emerged that some funeral parlours offer medical staff and police officers around Ј100 for information about deaths.