In a Vienna court on Wednesday 09 November 2005 the presiding Judge in the trail of the ten persons (6 police officers, 3 paramedics, and 1 physician) accused over the death on 15 July 2003, of a black African, Mr. Cheibani Wague from Mauritania, delivered his long-awaited verdict.
Article by Chibo Onyeji
After eight hearings that belatedly began on 19 July 2005, and in spite of overwhelming evidence, Judge. Gerhard Pohnert on the ninth and final court session ruled that eight of the ten defendants were 'not guilty' as charged; that only two were 'guilty': one police officer and the ambulance physician: and then handed each a 7-month suspended prison sentence! But the problem was already with the indictment itself.
To accuse ten intelligent, professionally trained, white adults merely of 'manslaughter' in the death of a black African whose shackled (by them), inert, helpless body they brutalized to death even as they taunted him with racist slurs ('Filthy creature!', 'Swine!') is much revealing and terrifying. And it does not matter whether or not all of the accused actively participated in the brutalization. After all, the physician was found guilty on the grounds that he did nothing or not enough to save Mr. Wague's life.
The message of Judge Pohnert's ruling is clear though not surprising: In matters concerning black people in Austria law enforcement agents of the state are above the law and the system will always be there to back or rescue them. That a police officer was found guilty at all showed how overwhelming the evidence was against the police. Though clear, the message, however, is not surprising because events have been consistently illustrating it over the years.
In April of 2002, Judge Alexander Fiala of the Korneuburg court actually ruled that Mr. Marcus Omofuma, the 25 year old Nigerian who was suffocated to death by three armed, overbearing Austrian police officers was partly responsible for his death in an aircraft cabin in May1999. There, also, the evidence against the police was overwhelming. In August 2004, a 37 year old Nigerian inmate, Mr. Edwin Ndupu, died at the Stein penitentiary in the province of Lower Austria after special force troops of the prison security physically assaulted him on a massive scale, and then had a prison doctor inject him with a tranquilizer. And to add insult to injury, the Honourable Austrian Federal Minster of Justice, Ms. Karin Gastinger (Miklautsch), subsequently invited the assaulting troops and their commander to the Federal Ministry in Vienna and congratulated them with rewards of financial prize and awards of certificate-of-merit for a job well done! On the night of 14 April 2005, Dr. Di Tutu Bukasa, a Vienna resident and prominent activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was brutally assaulted by six skinheads; nothing tangible came out of the numerous protests to and demands on the Minister of Interior and the system as a whole. On 4 October 2005, a young black fellow, Mr. Yankuba Ceesay from the Gambia died in mysterious circumstances in an isolated room of a Linz penitentiary. Still, nothing!
At this rate, it is doubtful that when Austria assumes the presidency of the EU in January 2006 issues such as 'fundamental human rights', and 'racism as a crime', will be among its priority concerns. This, for an otherwise beautiful country like Austria, will be extremely sad in itself. The claim by the Hon. Federal Minister of Interior, Ms. Liese Prokop that the recent France-type riots could not happen in Austria is hardly hope inspiring. By that she simply displayed a serious limitation of imagination. This is also extremely sad.
According to a confidential White Paper dated 19 October 2005, Austria's EU presidency will rather be focusing on negotiations about stabilization in the western Balkans. Such interest in countries which were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until World War I, is understandable. But, of course, it betrays a wistful melancholia of loss, and the hegemonic sentiments of intolerance and angst, which Austria's very tough stance against a possible Turkish entry into the EU, together with her demonstrated contempt for black people, confirms. The White Paper, unabashedly, suggests that this stance is to "preserve the European way of living against the backdrop of globalization." But what is this European way of life, which apparently is incapable of letting the truth prevail in the face of overwhelming evidence? Which whenever the evidence against the police is more likely to be overwhelming than not, any indictment brought against them, in matters concerning black people in Austria, must necessarily be trivial. Dangerous odds!
The defendants in the Cheibani Wague trial should have been charged with murder in the first place and not with 'manslaughter'.
Massive demonstration in protest against the police and the justice system, and in repudiation of the unbelievable, contemptuous, scandalous verdict is planned in Vienna for Saturday 12 November 2005.
© 2005 Chibo Onyeji