The police force are upholders of the law in society. They make sure that justice is done by protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. They help to solve crimes and will ensure that criminals are brought to prison or given whatever punishment is fitting. They also help victims of crime to get back on their feet.
Or at least, that’s what the police are supposed to be for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. While it would be wonderful if every police officer in the world was a good person who just wanted to help out, that’s not the case. Plenty of people around the world join the force in order to get access to power over other people, or to be given permission to carry out acts that would otherwise be seen as crimes. Sadly, in some parts of the world, it is seen as normal that this should be the case.
When police brutality hits, it’s hard to find a solution. The ones who should be upholding the law become the ones who break it. Who can you turn to in that situation? In some of the countries here, there have been some attempts to remove those individuals from the police force who perpetuate brutality. In others, the police force is instead used almost exclusively for brutality, mainly as a weapon in a civil war or ongoing conflict. Whatever the case may be, these 15 countries are places where you need to be very careful about coming into contact with the police.
15. Sudan & South Sudan
Unrest in Sudan is unfortunately often met with violence on both sides. The country has a history of instability, and across the border in South Sudan, police brutality is also high. One of the recent events bringing the brutality here into the light was a clash between police and protesters. The protesters were unhappy about rising fuel prices, quickly turning to chaos. Hundreds of people were killed over the course of several days, with at least 50 verified as being shot by the police force. They aimed for chests and heads, deliberately shooting to kill. Since the countries split into two, violence in South Sudan has also escalated. Amongst other evidence, videos have been leaked online which show police officers beating people accused of theft in the street. This is just one example of the recorded police brutality in this area. It’s clear that plenty of people here have reason to fear the law enforcement officers.
Police brutality is certainly something that haunts China, with accusations being made on a regular basis. One recent occurrence in May 2016 was a shocking case in which two men took to social media to share their story. One member of the Public Security Bureau kicked a man and his friend got out his phone to start filming it as evidence. As a result, the two of them were both beaten harshly by the police until they agreed not to share the video. This came hot on the heels of a man’s death in police custody. Having been caught in a raid on a foot massage parlour, the man was then beaten by the police and died in a cell. These incidents happened in Lanzhou and in Beijing, so it is clear that this is not an isolated problem. The scandals caused fury among the public, but that does not mean that anything is being done by those in power to stop it from happening again.
Beatings from the police are so common in Pakistan that there’s almost no point in mentioning them. Try a search for “police brutality Pakistan” and you will return thousands upon thousands of examples. Some major incidents include what happened at Kharotabad in 2011. Five foreign citizens were shot dead by police when they were accused of being suicide bombers at a border checkpoint. In extremely suspicious circumstances, a police surgeon who testified against the official version of events was also attacked twice, being shot dead the second time. Then in 2015, two brothers who refused to stop at a checkpoint were shot to death. Both were unarmed and simply going home from work. Afghan refugees have also been telling stories of police brutality which ended up forcing them to leave the country. Arrests, harassment, and beatings were part of their daily routine until they gave in and agreed to leave.
The scenes in Myanmar over the past few years might be news stories that you mistake as coming from the 60s or 70s. In 2015, students, monks, and journalists got together to protest against the lack of academic freedom in the country. Unbelievably, they were met with violence from the police. A march of 200 students was stopped in their tracks by 500 police officers, with more than half of them ending up in jail once the violence had died down. The police even fired on the protesters with slingshots. As a result, the president was forced to speak out in defence of the police force, saying that their use of violence was justified. The government even used the example of the Ferguson riots in the USA as an excuse for responding harshly to any signs of dissidence or unrest. Their message is clear: no one is allowed to hold negative views of their actions in Myanmar, and if they do, they will be met with violence and arrests.
11. North Korea
It’s tough to talk about what really goes on in North Korea, as information is so strongly controlled. In fact, all we do know is mostly from citizens who have managed to flee to South Korea or elsewhere. Those who do speak out know that they are putting any remaining friends and family in the country in danger. Nine children who escaped to Laos were beaten by Chinese border guards and eventually repatriated, after which it is believed the majority were executed as punishment. A shocking report from the UN put a spotlight on life in North Korea’s prisons: the inmates are deliberately starved, forced to work, torture, raped, and, if they fall pregnant, will have forced abortions. This can all be followed by execution also. Conditions on the streets are not much better, with police given free rein to act as they please in accordance with the supreme leader’s wishes. Speaking out against the regime can be punishable with prison or execution. It’s unbelievable that this is happening in the 21st century.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio raised many uncomfortable questions about police brutality in the country. Unfortunately, Brazil does not seem to be a place where the police are upholders of the law. In fact, one fifth of all homicides in Rio during 2015 were carried out by police officers. That was a total of 645 people, three quarters of whom were black men. In the attempt to clean up the favelas or slums, police have been given free license to execute those that they believe need to be removed from society. Nearly all of the deaths are reported as self-defence. Whether this is truly the case remains to be seen, but the gang violence in the city is hardly likely to fall when confronted with police who are always happy to pull the trigger. Police are regularly known to threaten witnesses to their brutality, as well as planting evidence and giving false reasons behind victims’ deaths.
Police brutality was reported as running unchecked during the last five to ten years. Even recently, more evidence has been coming to light of how this police force deals with the threat of the Taliban. Rather than putting suspects on trial right away, it seems that many are treated as guilty from the offset and beaten before being brought in. One video which was leaked in early 2016 showed a man, a suicide bomber suspect, being tied behind a police car with his hands behind his back. He was then dragged around 30 metres along the road before being beaten and bitten by the police officers. It’s no surprise that this happened in southern Kandahar, given that the police chief there, General Abdul Raziq, has been accused of torture and murder in the past. In this particular incident, his spokesperson dismissed the video as a fake and denied that such things happen in their region.
To understand the level of police violence in Iran, you must take a look at the Ashura protests of 2009 first. These took place on the Day of Ashura, a holy day when violence is forbidden and justice is upheld. The protests were met with violence, with security forces even opening fire on the protesters. Plain clothes officers shot directly at protesters and aimed to kill, while trucks were driven over them to keep them down. This was repeated constantly during protests over the election. The police used batons, sticks, pepper spray, and firearms to subdue riots and peaceful protests alike. The government says that there were officially 36 deaths during the protests, but opposition supporters claim that the number is much higher. In 2015, the country hosted a conference on police brutality against black people in the USA, prompting outrage from those who know the truth about the country’s police force.
Brutality in Haiti is common-place, and this decade has seen more than its fair share of massacres and incidents that would have caused widespread outrage in any first world country. Let’s take one example to illustrate the problem as a whole. The island of Ile a Vache was taken over by government officials who wished to turn it into more of an attraction. Rather than going through proper procedures, or even informing citizens, they simply began bulldozing homes. When the residents began organising peaceful marches and demanding answers, a new police chief was swapped in to make them keep quiet. People were violently beaten; 17 recorded in just one month when a human rights organisation headed over there to talk to them. They were hit with clubs, stomped on with heavy boots, and kicked – whether man, woman, or pastor. The residents reported ongoing health problems such as loss of hearing or haemorrhaging since the violence. Higher placed protesters, such as members of the local police force, were simply arrested and removed from the community.
Kenyan police came under heavy criticism (not for the first time) in May 2016 for their clashes with citizens. During protests, they turned with brutal force on anyone who stood out of line. One journalist described what he had seen: a man was “chased across the street and fell down. As he lay motionless on the ground, the riot policeman who had pursued him beat him with a stick, breaking it in half, and then continued to kick him half a dozen times, while two other police joined in.” He added, “Police went through the streets and alleys chasing protesters, beating them with sticks and clubs. In a nearby building where both protesters and bystanders had taken refuge, police went into the building, flushing them out towards waiting colleagues who beat many with wooden clubs and kicked them as they tried to flee.” The protests were over corruption in the government, and it’s easy to see why people felt it necessary to take to the streets, even at the risk of their lives, because of the widespread difficulties in the country.
In Russia, police violence is so common that it is barely even reported. So say the comments from Russian citizens themselves, where it is expected that the police will use brutal force whenever they feel like it. Conditions inside prisons are particularly bad. Once case which hit headlines recently was that of Sergei Pestov, who had been a drummer in a moderately successful band in the 1970s. In September 2015, he was drumming in his garage near Moscow when police burst in to arrest him. “Police began hitting him soon after they entered the garage,” said Yekaterina Shcherbina, one of his fellow musicians in the garage. “One of the officers punched him on the back of the head, and blood immediately began to pour from his nose.” He was then tied up with his own belt and remanded in police custody on suspicion of dealing drugs. The next morning, his wife had to identify his lifeless body in a hospital bed. The police say they released him in the middle of the night and he was already unwell when he returned. Human rights protesters obviously believe differently.
The Somalian police force is known as one of the most corrupt in the world. The country has been torn apart by war, and wounds are not allowed to heal as police enjoy free rein to act as they wish. The police force are for the most part ineffective, most of them accepting bribes to look the other way when crimes are committed. They are hugely underpaid, and as a result see citizens as a source of wages. They are not above stealing during searches as well as harassing innocent citizens for money. Police brutality is rampant. As if this was not enough, around 1,000 Somali officers suddenly disappeared in 2009 after they were given training provided by the German government. These officers are thought to have run off to join an Islamist militia. While efforts have been made to clean it up, the force is still as corrupt and violent as it has ever been, making it one of the least safe places for citizens.
In 2004, a CIA officer called Robert Baer claimed that Egypt was the place to send a man if you wanted them to disappear from the face of the earth. Then the Arab Spring happened and things only got worse. Police brutality has skyrocketed and shows no signs of every slowing down. In 2015, the statistics were horrendous: 1,250 people were forced to disappear, 267 were killed by the police force with no investigation or trial, and 40,000 people were remanded as political prisoners. These numbers were put together by human rights groups, and it’s thought that the true figures could be even higher. The Nadeem Centre documented more than 600 local cases of torture during the same year. As a result, the centre was put under investigation for receiving foreign funding without authorisation. Unfortunately, no solution has so far been found to stop the police brutality, particularly since the current government is of the opinion that the ousted Mubarak allowed all of this to begin because he was too lenient in allowing protests and opposition to his rule.
2. South Africa
Figures suggest that more people were killed by police in South Africa in 2015 than in 2014, a statistic that prompted outcry in the country. Not only deaths, but also other incidences of police brutality were recorded as rising. These included tortures and rapes carried out by uniformed officers. It has become such a problem that the civil liability suits brought against the police force would be enough to wipe out their budget if all were upheld. There were 244 deaths in police custody in 2015, as well as 124 rape cases involving officers. 42 of those were on duty at the time of the attacks. There were 145 cases of police torture, almost a 50% increase on the year before. Protesters are also regularly faced with techniques such as the firing of rubber bullets. It’s clear that there is a problem with police brutality, a trend that has continued since the days of apartheid in the country.
You have probably heard a lot about police brutality in the USA, particularly in very recent times. This has become a major problem in the country, particularly since 9/11. The changes brought in around that time allowed police officers to act almost with impunity, shooting to kill even on the slightest sliver of doubt that a suspect may become violent. There have been plenty of controversial shootings, as well as deaths in police custody, which have triggered riots and widespread condemnation. Some recent cases of note have included the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Gregory Gunn. The killings have resulted in nationwide protests. The Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t been shy about the thought that much of the police violence is racially motivated. Even prior to 9/11, there were many recorded cases of police brutality, but the situation has continued to worsen over time.