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Belgium: Parents hope for judges’ backing as son’s prison death court judgement looms

Next Tuesday, the parents of an inmate who died in prison will hope to receive the backing of human rights judges in their complaint against Belgium.

The European Court of Human Rights judgement in the case Tekin and Arslan v. Belgium (application no. 37795/13), will be announced on 5 September.

The case concerns the death of Michael Tekin (born in 1978), in Jamioulx Prison in 2009. The applicants, Ilhami Tekin and Döne Arslan, are two Belgian nationals who also have Turkish nationality.

Between 2007 and 2009 Michael Tekin was placed on three occasions in the psychiatric wing of Jamioulx Prison. On 3 July 2009, he was released, subject to a number of conditions. On 7 August 2009, the public prosecutor attached to the Charleroi Court of First Instance decided that he was to be returned to the psychiatric wing of Jamioulx Prison for failure to comply with the conditions of his release. He was placed in an individual cell in an ordinary section of Jamioulx Prison.

On 8 August 2009, the deputy prison governor decided to apply specific security measures to the applicants’ son for a seven-day period. Prison officer R., together with two other officers (L. and D.), were instructed to inform him about the measures in question.

When notified, Michael Tekin allegedly provoked R. to such an extent that the three prison officers believed that they were about to be attacked. R. then decided to place Michael Tekin in an isolation cell. In order to remove him from his cell, R. used a restraint technique known as an “arm lock” (“clé de bras”); L. and D. helped him to maintain it while a dozen members of staff arrived as back up.

On reaching the isolation cell the prison officers noted that Michael Tekin’s face was cyanotic. The medical staff intervened, unsuccessfully. Michael Tekin was pronounced dead at 12.50 p.m.

An investigation was opened automatically and the witnesses were questioned. An autopsy was carried out.

In March 2012 R., L. and D. were sent for trial before the Charleroi Criminal Court, which acquitted them of manslaughter. Michael Tekin’s parents lodged an appeal in their capacity as civil parties. Those proceedings are pending before the Mons Court of Appeal.

Relying on Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Michael Tekin’s parents complain about their son’s death; they consider that the force used was neither absolutely necessary nor proportionate.

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