On 5 September 2017, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Belgium for having breached Article 2 of the Convention (right to life) in the case of Tekin and Arslan v Belgium. The State was ordered to pay 20’000 euro of compensation for moral damage to the applicants, Mr Tekin’s parents.
Mr Tekin was a detainee suffering from psychiatric disorders, who died on 8 August 2009 in Jamioulx prison. Because of his opposition to some security measures, the officers immobilized him through arm-lock and strangle-hold techniques, impeding his breathing.
It is important to remind that the Court was only tasked with establishing the responsibility of the State, not the one of the police officers (Giuliani and Gaggio v Italy, § 182; Maslova v Russia, § 70), which had been acquitted of manslaughter in the national proceedings. In particular, the Strasbourg Court had to assess whether the evaluation made by the Charleroi Criminal Court was sufficient to establish the necessity and proportionality of the use of force by the police officers.
The Court eventually concluded that, in view of the circumstances, the use of force was not absolutely necessary in the case at stake. It condemned the techniques adopted by the police officers, underlining that they had not taken into consideration any alternative possible solution. The judges also observed that Mr Takin had been treated by both the prison staff and the Criminal Court as an ordinary detainee with full mental capacity, without having regard to his psychiatric disorders. Indeed, the inmate had been placed in an ordinary section of the prison, which was not appropriate to his state of mental health.
This case underlines the deficiencies of the Belgian penitentiary system concerning the treatment of mentally ill inmates and the prison staff’s lack of professional training.