Probe into ‘police brutality’ at Nicosia demo

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Following scenes of police using a water cannon and pepper spray in clashes with anti-corruption protestors, a probe has been launched into whether excessive force was used.

Attorney-General George Savvides gave the green light Monday for an independent watchdog to appoint criminal investigators to conduct an inquiry into possible police brutality.

In a statement on Monday, the Attorney General’s office said that the authority was given the green light to carry out the probe and hand over it findings for Savvides to consider whether any legal action is warranted.

The police complaints committee probe comes after Saturday’s demonstration in Nicosia where clashes occurred when police moved in to disperse the crowd, making 10 arrests while one demonstrator suffered an eye injury from a water cannon.

The independent authority for investigating complaints against police was requested to intervene by the Chief of Police Stelios Papatheodorou himself.

Police spokesperson Christos Andreou told the Cyprus News Agency the watchdog’s investigation would ensure the “objective and impartial” examination of what happened.

“In many cases, our members are in danger and they are forced to act, using proportionate force in particular cases,” said Christou.

During Saturday’s demonstration, a woman was seriously injured and in danger of losing sight in one eye.

Saturday’s demonstration was called against corruption, with organisers stressing that they were not COVID deniers nor anti-vaxxers.

Heavily armed riot police used a water cannon and pepper spray on demonstrators protesting against corruption.

In the video footage, a woman appeared to be dancing in front of police officers was hit in the face with the force of the water cannon, hitting her head on a barrier.

The woman identified as Anastasia Demetriadou, 25, a musician, has reportedly sustained serious injuries to her eye and is to undergo surgery.

“Police used a water cannon to attack me because I was dancing peacefully on the sidewalk. I have a serious eye injury and I need surgery, but I don’t regret anything!” Anastasia wrote on social media.

Pressure on Yiolitis to resign

The events sparked criticism against the Anastasiades administration with the main opposition party AKEL calling on Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis to assume her political responsibilities and tender her resignation.

“Extreme behaviour has no place in the police force and the investigation to be carried out will be thorough and officers found to have committed such acts will be held accountable,” Yiolitis told reporters Monday.

She said the police were not given instructions to use force.

“Yes, there is a ban on demonstrations, but this does not mean the police can respond with violence. Police should not employ violence,” said Yiolitis.

The minister said she had contacted the woman who suffered serious injuries to her eye, wishing her well for the operation.

Eye-witness account

An eyewitness to the events, Alexandra Attalides, former European Parliament Press Attaché in Cyprus, told the Financial Mirror, she believes the police had every intention of hurting demonstrators.

“When I arrived at the demonstration, I immediately realized that police were there ready for a conflict, rather than being there to supervise the event and keep the peace,” said Attalides.

“A number of these officers appeared to be anxious to start hitting people, as they were drumming their batons on their shields.

“When they decided to break up the demonstration, officers were cornering protesters inside roads and hitting them or using pepper spray.”

Attalides said police officers had tried to take her phone off her because she had been filming the events.

“Amid a pandemic, the government is opting to spend money on anti-riot vehicles instead of on equipment for hospitals and ICUs.”