The group of six people left from Velika Kladuša (BiH) on June 22nd and walked in the interior of Croatia for two days. In the early morning hours of June 25th, at around 1:00 am, they left the cover of the forest in order to cross a road which ran through this largely uninhabited, forested region. Although they were just trying to cross the road to get to the other side, the group found that it was full of thorny plants. This being the case, they decided to continue down the road for a while, and eventually came across a small bridge which was positioned over a river (approximate location marked on the map below). The group was approximately 10 meters away from the bridge at which point several police officers arrived in a civilian car. The first car carried “normal” officers, wearing blue uniforms.
These officers called for backup and shortly after another car arrived to the scene. There were six officers between these two cars in total. The second car carried two officers in black uniforms which the respondent described as “combat” uniforms. There were no other cars passing the group during their apprehension near the bridge on the roadside. It was on a street in the middle of the forest. An Arabic translator present during the testimony collection relayed his recollection of the event:
“First thing they put the lights on him, and then pushed him back and he fell backwards and they beat him with a baton and with their knees. He got his nose broken.”
The respondent described that during the course of their apprehension, him and his friends experienced a high level of violence from the police officers. The respondent in particular described being pushed over by a police officer, falling back and then being straddled by a police officer and who hit him several times with a baton before taking the butt of his gun and swinging it at his nose. After this single blow to the nose, the respondent described the officer turning him on the other side and, again with the butt of the gun, hitting him four times in the [back] of the head until he fainted. The respondent then described regaining consciousness a short time later, during which time he was still being struck by a police officer.
When asked why he thought that he had received this treatment, the respondent voiced his opinion that:
“That’s how police treat illegal immigrants, it is quite normal to be that brutal.”
While he was being treated like this, the respondent described that his friends received somewhat different treatment from the officers. The respondent inferred that perhaps since he was the only group-member with a telephone in his possession at their time of apprehension, he was selected as the target of this violence. His mobile phone was taken at this point and later broken. The other group members were beaten, but not like the respondent.
The group was later put in a police van together and were brought back to the border between Croatia and Bosnia. It took them approximately an hour and a half to drive from the site of apprehension to this location. There was a river at the push-back site which ran between Bosnia and Croatia. There were four officers in total present at this site who wore dark blue uniforms. The respondent recalled there being some sort of barriers which were described as trees cut sideways.
“There was kinds of obstacles there”
“Like a tree, like a normal tree, put it on the side”
Nearby the area where the group was brought back, the respondent described there being a large boulder where the police officers put his broken telephone on the rock and they asked him to pick it up. The officers had already taken several things from the phone, such as the memory and SIM cards. The respondent was the first man to be taken out of the van. They were taken out one at a time.
“Once you pick up the telephone, the first police officer starts beating you. And you run. And you don’t see the obstacle here and you fall down and the other starts beating you.”
“They made it on purpose to make people fall.”
“You fall here and the two men start beating you up”
The respondent then described getting himself up before stumbling down to a nearby river which marked the border of Bosnia and Croatia. At this moment, the officers seemed to lose interest in him. The respondent then heard an officer saying to another officer to “Pick the other one” after which they went back to the van and took one of his friends. The respondent described hearing the screams of his friend being struck by the police officers.
“The brutality has the purpose to make you weak”
“Even though I was covered in blood, they still beat me”
Additionally, the respondent described seeing his friend’s backpacks, food, and extra clothing burned by the police officers.
“At first you just see your things [in a pile] on the side, and then you go [into Bosnia] and if you turn back you see the fire.”
According to the respondent, the place where they returned the group is well known because it is always the same place. He described it as being around 15 km away from Velika Kladuša.