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Prague Police Brutalize Activist Prisoner

by Julie LightSpecial to CorpWatch
September 29th, 2000

PRAGUE -- Yehoshua Tzarfati has a chilling story to tell. He came to Prague to help as a medic during this week's World Bank/IMF demonstrations. He leaves deported as a "danger to the Czech Republic" after spending three days in Czech prisons, badly beaten and emotionally shaken.

Tzarfati has two black eyes, walks with a severe limp and suspects that his ribs are broken. He is one of as many as several hundred foreign activists who were released today from the Balkova immigration detention center outside of Prague after intervention from their embassies. Many say that they were mistreated, sexually abused and beaten while they were held by authorities.

Tzarfati, 23, a dual Israeli/French national was arrested in Prague's Wenceslas Square Tuesday night after a small group of demonstrators smashed windows at two fast food restaurants. He was walking away alone from the square where he had gone as a medic, and was chased down and jumped by police who threw him to the ground and began kicking his ribs. They removed his armband bearing a red cross that identified him as a medic. That was only the beginning of his ordeal.

Police took him to a stationhouse where he was brutally beaten by six officers for 40 minutes while his hands were cuffed behind his back. "They bashed my head against the wall and asked my nationality." Tzarfati, who is a dark skinned Sephardic Jew told them he was Israeli. "'Jew?' they asked me. I said yes 'Jew.'" The six officers then threw him to the ground and kicked him all over his body. One officer punched him in the face. "I couldn't see anything; I put my head between my legs so they couldn't hurt me so much."

He was taken, still handcuffed, to a cell. He shouted to have the cuffs removed, which dug so far into his wrists that they bled. He was transferred to another police station where he was interrogated. He asked for a legal observer, but one only arrived shortly before the interrogation ended.

After Tzarfati signed a statement, he was transferred to the immigration police who photographed and finger printed him. They made him sign another statement attesting that he was a danger to the Czech Republic.

He was separated from the other prisoners and told to strip. "When I was totally naked, one guy opened the door so people could see me," Tzarfati said, breaking into tears. "I told him to close the door so people wouldn't see me, and he said 'I don't speak English'".

He was made to sign more papers and then transferred with twenty other prisoners to the Balkova detention center, which he referred to as "the camp." "They put numbers on our arms like-I won't say like Jews, because I am a Jew," Tzarfati said referring to the numbers Nazis tattooed on concentration camp prisoners. "I was so scared, but I tried to stay calm. I tried to cheer up the others by telling bad jokes. I didn't want them to see how scared I was," Tzarfati explained.

In Balkova the activist detainees went on a hunger strike to protest the dehumanizing way they were treated, including pajamas they were forced to wear and the verbal abuse they suffered from guards.

Tzarfati was released today along with group of French prisoners. He was taken to the French Embassy where he made a statement to Amnesty International. All foreign activists who were arrested but never charged, were given 24 hours to leave the country. Tzarfati will be among them.

Julie Light is Managing Editor of