On the evening of 10 November 2014, reporter Stefan Mako was beaten by policemen in the Old City Center of Bucharest because he had filmed them while beating another man. They asked for his ID, confiscated his mobile phone, threw him in the police station, hit him, verbally abused him, spat on him and threatened him, then politely released him. For several months the journalist documented the trial of a policeman accused of having beaten a beggar to death, admist of a large number of complaints and investigations regarding abuses by Old City Center and Police Section 10 in Bucharest.
SEEMO: You were attacked by policemen last November. What happened?
Stefan Mako: I was riding my bike around the Historic Center. I saw two policemen talking to a man next to a kebab shop. They asked for his ID and made him empty his pockets. The guy did as he was told. One of the policemen got angry, maybe because the guy was too slow: ‘What are you doing? Move! When I tell you to do something, make sure you do it’! The guy panicked; ‘Hey, what are you doing? Why are you touching me?’ and jumped the policemen. The officers restrained him right away, laid him on the pavement, punched him and kicked him, then handcuffed him.
I took out the mobile phone from my pocket and started filming. ‘This is what they teach you in military school? Aren’t you ashamed?’ an old man behind me asked them. An older policeman, wearing civilian clothing, approached me
‘Get away from here!’ he said.
I told him, ‘Leave me alone, I am a journalist. This is public space.’
‘So what if you’re a journalist! Get the fuck out, buddy, I’m being nice to you, okay?’ he said. Then he slapped my hand that was holding the phone and went to pick up the officers’ radios, which had fallen to the ground. Meanwhile, the two policemen in uniforms took the handcuffed man to the station. I started following them, filming them from a distance.
In front of the police station, I saw the older policeman talking to two officers, who then approached me and asked for my ID. Before I could hand them my papers, the officer in civilian clothing came and grabbed my phone, while the others carried me away from my bike, slapped my head and threw me inside the station.
SEEMO: What happened in the police station?
Stefan Mako: All of a sudden, he grabbed my jacket and slammed me against the wall, then punched me in the ribcage. The policemen yelled at me as if I had killed someone. I barely took out my press card, before the dark-haired policeman grabbed it and threw it against the wall. He said, ‘You’re a journalist? I piss on you!’
I told him the guys had just thrown it around. ‘Fine, I’m out’. A police officer started reading the info on my ID card and burst out again: ‘You’re from Covasna district, huh? You’re a country boy and you talk back? Film my dick, then, film my dick! He says, bending towards me, one hand on his slit, then he slapped my left cheek and spits in my eye.’
SEEMO: So you became the problem there.
Stefan Mako: His choleric colleague kept taunting me, saying I caused a scandal, and I kept explaining to them that I did nothing but film, it was other people who were making fun of them. Then the taller policeman grabbed me and tried to drag me in the back, probably to the restroom. ‘I’m going to fuck you in the ass, you motherfucker! You call this journalism? I’m going to fuck your ass!’ He keeps pushing me and yelling at me, ‘Don’t you show any civic spirit? You film us instead of helping us out? When you saw that man attack us, you should’ve minded your own way, not start filming.’
SEEMO: How did thing end at the police station?
Stefan Mako: They kept softening. ‘How are the people in Covasna?’ I told them, ‘Like all people, some good, some bad’.
‘They know their place, right? That’s what I’ve heard’. The tall policeman handed me my ID and shyly shook my hand, like we were buddies. ‘Well, Mako Istvan…’ I asked him if I can leave, and they agreed. The dark-haired man gently led me to the door, but he still added that I did not do the right thing. ‘Have a nice evening’.
I told them, ‘You too’.
SEEMO: Did you fill a complaint?
Stefan Mako: I went to the hospital, where I waited in line for five hours, together with other people who had been beaten up, until one doctor finally noticed me. The diagnosis says ‘blunt thoracic injury’. I was at a hearing at the Bucharest Police. I filed a criminal complaint to the Prosecutor via APADOR-CH, which is representing me legally.
SEEMO: Have there been any results?
Stefan Mako: Not yet, my complaint is ‘under investigation’.
SEEMO: How did these events affect your life?
Stefan Mako: Concerning my personal life, I was shaken for a few days. I experienced stress, fatigue and insomnia. But it is assumed that this kind of thing can happen to anyone in the ‘industry’. It helped me to better understand what I was told by several people who have had similar experiences. I suppose I have now a complete documentation and a personal perspective. I understand better why these things happen; lack of training, the pressure in the system, mimicry, professional and personal frustrations of the people involved. It also gives me a legal perspective, and direct contact with bureaucracy and systemic flaws related to civilian control, the power of citizens to defend themselves against abuse, how the system functions. People are discouraged from seeking justice in the court system because of bureaucracy, and because of the prejudices and conflicts of interest that state employees dealing with such cases have.
SEEMO: Did your experience change your reporting?
Stefan Mako: Bypassing personal trauma, the incident, although unpleasant, helped me. Because I personally experienced this kind of treatment, I was contacted by dozens of people who were subjected to various forms of abuse by the police, people who didn’t have the courage, the resources or the power to address it legally. In any case, it was a plus for my documentation. I’m glad I escaped with a few bruises. It seems, however, the press card did something.