Natallya Kachanava, head of the Presidential Administration, met Thursday in Mahilyow with representatives of the city’s Roma community in an attempt to clear the air over the arrests of dozens of its members following a young police officer’s death last week.
Some 30 Roma were brought to the meeting in the regional capital from its Chapayewka neighborhood, where multiple homes were raided by police on the night between May 16 and 17.
As Mahilyow human rights defender Barys Bukhel told BelaPAN, many Roma people declined an invitation to attend the meeting with Ms. Kachanava. Reporters and human rights activists were barred from the meeting.
According to unconfirmed reports, Ms. Kachanava used the meeting to apologize to the Roma community for the police’s actions.
The meeting was also attended by Mikhail Rusy, presidential aide/chief inspector to the Mahilyow region, as well as by Leanid Zayats, head of the Mahilyow Regional Executive Committee; Uladzimir Tsumaraw, head of the Mahilyow City Executive Committee; and Ihar Shcharbachenya, head of the Mahilyow regional police department.
Nameplates for Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich and Natallya Eysmant, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s press secretary, were initially seen on the desk in the auditorium, but were removed shortly before the meeting began.
More than 100 Roma people were apprehended in their homes within hours after 22-year-old Officer Yawhen Patapovich was found dead just outside Mahilyow on May 16. His last text message sent to his colleagues led detectives to believe that Roma men might have been involved in his death.
On May 20, the Investigative Committee announced that the officer most likely committed suicide by shooting himself.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in the House of Representatives, General Shunevich defended the arrests and said that the police would not apologize to the Roma community.
“The minister has neither a cause nor a reason to apologize to Roma. Am I being clear?” he said.
When asked whether he thought he might be accused of xenophobia, he said, “They have repeatedly tried to do so. I view any of my statements from the point of view of the fulfillment of my job functions.”
“I view the actions of my subordinates in this respect as being absolutely justified and fitting the circumstances in which the investigation of this grave crime was being conducted,” he said. “There were certain reasons and causes for that. We targeted one group exclusively based on evidence that we had obtained by the time. Information from the victim was the source of this evidence. We had to check all theories, including the one that prompted the investigation of a certain share of our citizens belonging to the [Roma] minority.”
Mr. Shunevich said that he was ready to face the responsibility if the police’s actions were found to be illegal by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Prosecutor General Alyaksandr Kanyuk said Thursday that his office was looking into a complaint about Roma people`s arrests.