What did Belgian former minister know about the death of a Slovakian man after police violence?

The images raised a lot of questions in Belgium two weeks ago. They showed the harsh action taken by the Belgian police against a Slovakian man in his cell. Was it really necessary to hit him so hard? Did the man die because of the violence? And why did one of the cops bring the Hitler salute?

All those questions have not yet been answered and since the appearance of the video there have only been more questions. Some of these new questions have to be answered by former Minister of the Interior Jambon in the Belgian Parliament today. Jambon is now Minister-President of Flanders and his political future seems to be in jeopardy.

The images from the cell are already two and a half years old, but only leaked out two weeks ago. Jambon was immediately critical. As a former Minister of the Interior he would have liked to know about it, he said on the Flemish channel VTM, but nobody had told him anything. “There’s never, to my level, been any sign of it.”

That’s not true. Jambon was indeed informed. In fact, he talked about the case with the Slovakian ambassador. The Flemish Prime Minister rushed back from his holiday in Italy last Saturday to explain at a press conference that he remembers nothing of that meeting. He will repeat that today, but the question is whether he will get away with it.

Moreover, many members of parliament wonder: why didn’t Jambon do anything when he was informed about the case? For example, he could have opened an investigation. The Flemish-nationalist himself says that he did not see the footage at the time and therefore could not assess how serious the case was. Many members of parliament also questioned this.


The case of the 38-year-old Slovakian man Jozef Chovanec has certainly not diminished in the past two weeks. His widow is waiting for Belgian justice, but the investigation didn’t get going. The leaking of the images seems to speed things up.

Because a lot could have happened since then. Two high-ranking police officers were transferred, the officer who gave the Hitler salute is no longer allowed to do services in which she has to speak to people and there will be a reconstruction of what happened in the cell. In addition, several witnesses came forward and it turns out that the ambulance staff also made mistakes.

To start with the latter: experts state that Chovanec probably suffered from a psychosis. He should have been given a sedative much sooner. The Belgian press refers to the Netherlands, where protocols exist for people suffering from psychosis. Belgium does not have one.

Confused but not aggressive

The witnesses say that the plane crew didn’t react well either. Chovanec was in a Ryanair plane at the time of his arrest. He didn’t want or couldn’t show his boarding pass, so the staff called the police. Several witnesses say that Chovanec seemed confused at the time and certainly not aggressive. They call the procedures of the plane staff “amateurish”, the police would have been aggressive afterwards.

Jambon won’t have to answer for those last things today. Above all, he has to save his political body by making it clear how he could completely forget the case and why he didn’t start an investigation at the time. That investigation will undoubtedly take place in the near future.