Accused of stealing a chainsaw, a few hours later he was beaten to death by two Hungarian policemen

I’m not exaggerating. I had to read about 150 articles before I managed to get a more or less accurate picture of what happened in Izsák, where on April 8 two policemen during an ordinary interrogation regarding the possible theft of a chainsaw beat a suspect to death.

The news hit the national media only late afternoon on April 10. The Izsák police force was not too eager to release the news. But such a sensational case cannot be “localized.” So, they first fired and eventually arrested the two policemen suspected of the murder and for good measure got rid of two of their superiors. But these were low-level officers. Higher up in the hierarchy no one was ready to take responsibility, although by that time it became clear that police brutality was fairly widespread in the County of Bács-Kiskun.

That a man is beaten to death by policemen is not an everyday occurrence in Hungary. In fact, Ferenc Krémer, who for years taught sociology at the Police Academy, can’t remember a single case in his lifetime.

According to critics of the government, it is no coincidence that the first shocking instance of police brutality took place in 2013 and not, let’s say, in 2009. Commentators called attention to the fact that the government majority in parliament passed legislation that allows the police to interrogate suspects without legal representation in the first twenty-four hours. Also, the current government’s approach to law and order is based on strict enforcement. “Let’s be tough on crime” is the slogan. Thus, members of the police force feel empowered to behave aggressively in the war against crime. The government set up a “Complaint Committee” (Panaszbizottság) to investigate unfair treatment by the police and almost 2,000 complaints reached the committee last year. Fewer than thirty were actually investigated.

So, what happened in this case? The victim’s name is József Bara (47). He lived with his partner of fifteen years, Andrea, in a well-kept but secluded house (tanya) at the end of a dirt road in the town next to Izsák, Orgovány. Bara was one of the many Romanian-Hungarians who settled in the area. So was his neighbor, who calls himself a proud Szekler. The two were on good terms a few years back but lately they had a lot of arguments. Moreover, Bara had a run-in with the police a few years back because he got into an argument with somebody that ended in a brawl.

It was about a year ago that the proud Szekler’s chainsaw was stolen. After months of investigation the police couldn’t come up with a suspect. At this point the Szekler neighbor started investigating the case himself . He came to the conclusion that his neighbor, József Bara, was the one who stole his chainsaw. How did he figure that out? His chainsaw had a faulty part, and he claimed that only he knew how to start the machine. He found out that Bara had gone to have a chainsaw repaired because he had difficulty starting it. The neighbor was sure that he had found the culprit. He went to the police.

Two young police officers arrived at Bara’s house to investigate. Bara and his partner were on their way home, walking on the dirt road leading to their house, when the police car caught up with them. In no time the two officers pushed him to the ground and buried his head in the sand. Andrea was worried that he might suffocate and asked him not to struggle. The policemen wanted to search the house, but it turned out that they didn’t have a warrant. Because the house was in Andrea’s name, she refused to let them in. She claimed that Bara had nothing to do with the chainsaw and that there was no chainsaw in their house.

The policeman's fist after the beating / kecskemeti-hirhatar.hu

The policeman’s fist after the beating / kecskemeti-hirhatar.hu

So the two policemen put Bara into their car and drove him to the Izsák police station. By 11 p.m. Bara was dead.

Two policeman arrived at Andrea’s house at 1 a.m. and drove her to the police station. Without telling her that her partner was dead, they interrogated her, mostly about what kinds of medication Bara was taking. They were also interested in drug use. Clearly, the idea was to find some reason other than the beating for Bara’s death.

Eventually, around three o’clock in the morning, Andrea was told that Bara was no longer alive. The story she heard was that  Bara just fell off the chair and to their surprise they found that he was dead! Luckily Andrea was no fool and called József’s brother to join her. He took a look at the body and reported that the man was so severely beaten from the waist up that he was practically unrecognizable. His face was described as “smashed flat.”

One of the two policemen has since testified that they acted in self-defense. It’s hard to believe that a 47-year -old man could beat up two armed policemen in their twenties! Four days after the event the policemen’s superiors charged the dead man with assaulting the interrogating policeman. Can one charge a dead man? Sure, I guess one can, but what’s the use?

What kind of men were these two policemen? Viktor B. had a reputation as a “tough guy” who was known to beat suspects before. He promised that he “would clean up the place” and behaved accordingly. The mayor of Izsák, however, expressed his surprise about stories allegingViktor B.’s cruel behavior because up to this point there was no complaint about him. The 24-member force was a good group of people. In fact, one of the suspects in the Bara murder case was already accepted into TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), which is often described as Viktor Orbán’s personal army. Naturally, the defense lawyer of Viktor B., Zsuzsanna Kiszely, also finds it impossible to imagine that this upright man who was such a devoted policeman would have acted against the rules and regulations of the Hungarian police. His whole adult life has been devoted to serving his country and its police force.

The latest turn of events might shed some light on what happened during the night of April 8 in the Izsák police station. A third policeman came forth and broke the old rule that a policeman doesn’t rat out a colleague. He felt that he had to tell the truth. He was an eyewitness. Apparently he tried to stop the beating but without success. But whether his man’s testimony will make any difference only time will tell. According to police regulations, a witness must come forth immediately, not four days later.

Opposition critics rightly point out that the new law introduced by the Orbán government that can deprive the accused of having a lawyer present in the first twenty-four hours gives an undue advantage to the investigators who can pressure the accused to confess to a crime he may not have committed. The tough rhetoric used by the Orbán government in general and the Ministry of Interior in particular under the leadership of Sándor Pintér, a former police chief, may permeate the atmosphere of the police force. The motto of the Hungarian Police is “We serve and defend!” but in the last few years the emphasis has been on “punishment.” Here is the result. Moreover, according to the investigative reports of some journalists, beatings at the police stations in the County of Bács-Kiskun are quite common. People are afraid to complain or, if they do, nothing happens.

A final comment. As I mentioned earlier, József Bara was a Romanian citizen. The Romanian foreign ministry is naturally interested to what happened to one of their own. The two policemen from Izsák surely didn’t think that the case would get as far as Bucharest.

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25 comments

  1. My assumption is that Bara was a dual citizen. So, do the rights of dual citizens include the right of being beaten to death by the Hungarian police? Or is this a patriotic duty of every citizen, including the dual ones?

    Just as point of interest: is a dual citizen entitled to his/her other citizenship’s immediate consular legal assistance, if arrested?

    It seems that in the former countries of the Eastern Block (or at least in Hungary) meeting a policeman is still a good reason for being afraid. Arresting someone and then beating him (possibly to death) based on a simple denunciation is still going on. From this point of view there was no regime change. As we can observe, from many other points of view a reversal of the regime change is in progress (and not only to the communistic totalitarian regime, but also two step back, to the the one that preceded it).

  2. gdfxx :

    My assumption is that Bara was a dual citizen?

    I’m not at all sure. In fact, I’m almost certain that he wasn’t. The hundreds of articles I read categorically stated that he was a Romanian citizen. Moreover, he wants to be buried in Transylvania.

  3. Eva S. Balogh :

    gdfxx :
    My assumption is that Bara was a dual citizen?

    I’m not at all sure. In fact, I’m almost certain that he wasn’t. The hundreds of articles I read categorically stated that he was a Romanian citizen. Moreover, he wants to be buried in Transylvania.

    What? A man of 46 already knew that he didn’t want to be buried in the 8th circle of Hell? He had a will?

    Anyway, a couple of other questions:
    –Have photos been taken of the beaten man?
    –Has the Interior Ministry, or the Justice Department, instituted an investigation?

    Btw, I can predict that little will happen to the policeman. Even if dismissed, they’ll manage to find even better jobs, perhaps with Orban’s vaunted ‘guards’. After all,
    they’re ‘one of ours’ against a Romanian…much like Csatary was ‘one of ours’ against those ‘damn jews’.

    Nice country. Justified to be elected into the Dark Ages.

  4. Animaskima :
    @gdfxx I agree. Nazi Hungary is back.

    Oh, the Mustachios and Bekemenet people are happy now! (Psst, do you think that they know that, when the country will be on its hands and knees, that their heroic leaders will decamp for Britain, France, USA and Canada?)

  5. Something is rotten in the hamlets of Orgovány…

    1919: The massacres of Orgovany of Jews and Communists by the Whites.
    http://www.graphicwitness.org/contemp/biro11.htm

    2011: Zsolt Bayer, Fidesz’s #5:

    “Sajnos nem sikerült mindet beásni nyakig az orgoványi erdőben”.
    Unfortunately, we did not succeed to bury all of them alive in the forest of Orgovany

    http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/ugyanaz_a_buz.html

    2013: Mr Bara was arrested in the woods of Orgovany, close to his hamlet.

  6. Eva S. Balogh :

    gdfxx :
    My assumption is that Bara was a dual citizen?

    I’m not at all sure. In fact, I’m almost certain that he wasn’t. The hundreds of articles I read categorically stated that he was a Romanian citizen. Moreover, he wants to be buried in Transylvania.

    Probably you are right, although as far as I know most transplants of Hungarian origin from Romania requested Hungarian citizenship, to ease their employment in Hungary. But if he had only Romanian citizenship, the nature of my questions is even more acute. Are the new laws of Hungary such that a foreign citizen can be arrested for no reason and beaten (maybe to death) without first asking him/her if s/he desires consular assistance?

    I am sure this piece of information will greatly improve the tourist traffic to Hungary. Maybe Viking Tours should replace their ad campaign for the Danube cruises (that now show a nice scene of tourists having a nice conversazione with an older lady, who looks like a Hungarian peasant woman) with some scenes from Midnight Express.

  7. Again. Sandor Pinter. The minister of interior. What the hell is this guy doing? How long does Orban want to cover for him? Scandals after scandals with the police force, the emergency management, you name it. While some 80-90% of the government appropriations spent on security details goes to his old firm he sold before he became a minister. Connect the dots.

    Am I watching too much Law and Order, but my first question was, don’t they have cameras in the interrogation rooms?

    Even though the law that permits holding without legal representation made things worst, police brutality and corruption was always rampant in Hungary. They always cover for each other. Like the Omertà in the Cosa Nostra. The Hungarian version – Maria Nostra (sorry, bad joke).

    For instance meet lieutenant colonel Tibor Andriska. This cop beat a petty thief in 2000 so much that his eyeball ruptured. According to him the chair broke under the perp. He was acquitted. 5 years later hew was convicted (!) for police brutality and misuse of authority. This guy is today the Head of the Investigative Division (*) of the Bacs-Kiskun County’s police department. Yes, were Mr Bara was killed.

    * “Vizsgálati Osztály” in Hungarian. This division is responsible of investigating crimes with known perpetrators except traffic crimes.

  8. London Calling!

    I attached a link to this case in my comment to when you referred to the Tobin case.

    Inferring that Tobin (‘johnny foreigner’) would have questionable treatment by the police – not to mention prison warders and prisoners, if he is required to serve his sentence in Hungary.

    Anybody would be reluctant to travel to Hungary if they didn’t have to in these circumstances.

    ———————————————–

    “……According to police regulations, a witness must come forth immediately, not four days later…..”

    In any democracy, everyone’s testimony requires that they write a witness statement – regardless of the passage of time – although this factor will be taken into account in due process, when considering its ‘weight’.

    And it is a requirement that they swear on oath that it is true.

    Regardless of who the citizen is – policeman, carpenter or judge.

    Why should the police be different?

    Does truth ‘decay’ in Hungary?

    There must be a history of many cases not being investigated because the main witness, a policeman, has allowed his potential ‘testimony’ to expire?

    It’s that constitution again!

    Regards

    Charlie

  9. tappanch :

    More details about the 1919 massacres in Hungarian:

    So the number of murdered people was at least 80, mostly Jews.

    We talked about Orgovány here before and originally I wanted to mention it but a sentence wouldn’t have been enough and more than that would have taken me too far from my subject. I’m glad that you mentioned it.

  10. Eva S. Balogh :

    tappanch :
    More details about the 1919 massacres in Hungarian:
    So the number of murdered people was at least 80, mostly Jews.

    We talked about Orgovány here before and originally I wanted to mention it but a sentence wouldn’t have been enough and more than that would have taken me too far from my subject. I’m glad that you mentioned it.

    Something is rotten in the hamlets of Orgovány…

    in S’s Hamlet:
    Marcellus:
    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

    in popular Hungarian translation [not in Arany’s]:

    “Valami bűzlik Dániában”, i.e. Something reeks in Denmark.

    The title of Bayer’s article: “The same stench”

    Orgovany —-> Death —–> Stench —-> Hamlet

  11. Having seen the Hungarian police in action and at close quarters, I don’t think this incident was any more likely to take place in 2013 than 2009. Or 1995 come to that. I’m amazed this is the first time someone has died in custody and strongly suspect it isn’t. I don’t think it is helpful trying to cram this into the general narrative of this blog that sees Orbán responsible for all evil. Some evil he has inherited, including the behaviour and ethics of the police.

    As for Pintér, he is probably the last minister Orbán would sack, indeed COULD sack, because, to put it delicately, he has his hands firmly wrapped around Orbán’s nethermost regions. Basically he knows too much about Fidesz, which is how he walked into the job in 1998. He appointed himself!

  12. “That a man is beaten to death by policemen is not an everyday occurrence in Hungary. In fact, Ferenc Krémer, who for years taught sociology at the Police Academy, can’t remember a single case in his lifetime.”

    Hmm, maybe he has a short memory. I definitely remember a case that was reported in the Hungarian magazine, “Reform,” back in 1989, when a 25-year-old student was beaten to death by two policemen stationed at the main railway station of Debrecen. It’s another matter that the police officers were found “not guilty” in the case, despite the death of the student and witnesses’ accounts who overheard the pour soul’s cries while he was being beaten. (Apparently only “sin” was that he was not entirely sober that day.)

  13. Tyrker :

    Hmm, maybe he has a short memory. I definitely remember a case that was reported in the Hungarian magazine, “Reform,” back in 1989, when a 25-year-old student was beaten to death by two policemen stationed at the main railway station of Debrecen. It’s another matter that the police officers were found “not guilty” in the case, despite the death of the student and witnesses’ accounts who overheard the pour soul’s cries while he was being beaten. (Apparently only “sin” was that he was not entirely sober that day.)

    But, don’t you think that one expects a little more from the police of a democratic country than from the police force of a dictatorship, however, mild it was?

  14. tappanch :
    More details about the 1919 massacres in Hungarian:
    http://konfliktuskutato.hu/index.php?option=com_maps&view=event&Itemid=24&id=107
    So the number of murdered people was at least 80, mostly Jews.

    Apparently, your source is wrong. Two years ago, in the wake of Bayer’s first “Orgovány-themed” article, hvg interviewed two academicians about the Orgovány massacre and what they said does not tally with what you are saying (although there are overlaps): http://hvg.hu/tudomany/20110208_orgovanyi_gyilkossag_hattere

  15. Eva S. Balogh :

    But, don’t you think that one expects a little more from the police of a democratic country than from the police force of a dictatorship, however, mild it was?

    One does, of course. What’s happened is horrible and alarming. But what I was reacting to was Krémer’s claim that he “can’t remember a single case in his lifetime,” specifically.

  16. Apologies for changing the subject somewhat, but recently I came across this article on NOL and my blood ran cold. In a way it is analogous with the police brutality issue, which we can now see unchanged from the old days. If that amount of brutality in maternity and delivery wards was almost the same even before “regime change” then something indeed is very wrong not only in Orgovany, but everywhere.
    http://nol.hu/lap/forum/20130410-_macskat_fog_szulni__nem_gyereket

  17. Further apologies to our English only readers, as due to being totally bilingual I sometimes make these mistakes in forgetting about which language articles are in. The link leads to an article on accusations of actual physical harm and brutality to Roma pregnant women and women in labour in Hungarian hospitals. Blood chilling, especially that in the NE of Hungary it is said to have existed long before the fall of communism.

  18. Here is a hint that Fidesz will force an early election:

    Fidesz will NOT even satisfy Barroso’s 3 concerns – Orban’s Friday positive reply notwithstanding!

    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/10593/10593-0002.pdf

    In this new amendment to last week’s amendment of the election law, Fidesz repeals the ban on political advertisement in the commercial media, but only before the EU elections.

    This implies, in my opinion, that Fidesz will declare early elections – it will not be held together with the EU election in 2014.

    Another cheating on the part of Fidesz that the Chief of Judiciary will not have right to change the avenue of a trial ONLY IF the charge involves EU law.

    To summarize, Orban lied to Barroso a few days ago.

  19. Now we can speculate when the early election takes place – in September or in October?

    The opposition is still fragmented and leaderless, Fidesz will strike. They promise further reduction in the price of the utilities – they can revoke these promises in November, after they win another four-year term.

    This is only my thought experiment – I have no insider knowledge.

  20. JGrant :
    Apologies for changing the subject somewhat, but recently I came across this article on NOL and my blood ran cold. In a way it is analogous with the police brutality issue, which we can now see unchanged from the old days. If that amount of brutality in maternity and delivery wards was almost the same even before “regime change” then something indeed is very wrong not only in Orgovany, but everywhere.
    http://nol.hu/lap/forum/20130410-_macskat_fog_szulni__nem_gyereket

    I can’t get this link to work. It initially brings up the page, but then comes up with an error message and it’s impossible to copy the text, or do anything else with the page.

    I manually copied some of the text into Google to see if I could find the page that way, but got exactly the same result.

    Can anyone help?

  21. sad thing here is that Police in HU are even not trained by experience i had a girlfriend that became police only in 3 months and she needs to have a practice of 6 months and she can get the job!….. sad but true this people in this country! that can be police in 3 months and can carry a weapon is a shit!!!! plus i know lots of policemans here in Hungary that are with drugs! so… what can we say!

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