Shunevich: No grounds for apology to Roma

The police will not apologize for the arrests of Roma following last week’s death of a traffic police officer in Mahilyow, Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich told reporters in the House of Representatives on May 23.

The minister said that the arrests had been justified at the time and there were no grounds to apologize to the Roma.

Dozens of Roma people were arrested shortly after 22-year-old Officer Yawhen Patapovich was found dead just outside Mahilyow on May 16. His last text message sent to his colleagues led detectives to believe that Roma men might have been involved in his death.

When asked Thursday whether he thought he might be accused of xenophobia, General Shunevich said, “They have repeatedly tried to do so. I view any of my statements from the point of view of the fulfillment of my job functions.”

The minister confirmed that the policeman’s suicide was investigators’ main theory. “A murder and abduction are not the main theory as of today,” he said, adding that investigators continued working to rule out foul play in the case.

Mr. Shunevich said that the number of suicides committed by police officers had considerably decreased in the past decade. “There were tens of times as many suicides 10 years ago,” he said. “I’m not boasting, I’m citing statistical data. And this is a certain achievement.”

Human rights defenders have condemned the mass arrests of Roma people in Mahilyow.

Ales Byalyatski, leader of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to conduct an inquiry into the arrests. He said that the people had been arrested exclusively based on their ethnicity and many of the arrests had involved violence, insults and intimidation.

Mr. Byalyatski warned that Roma were regularly targeted by the Belarusian police in what he described as ethnic profiling practices.