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Verdict expected in deportee death trial

Human rights activists simulate a deportation in a protest last year

(Keystone Archive)

A court in canton Zurich is expected to deliver a verdict in the case of a Palestinian asylum seeker, who suffocated while being deported. A doctor and three policemen, who gagged the prisoner to prevent him from crying out, are charged with causing death through negligence.

The prosecution has called for five-month prison suspended sentences for all the defendants. Lawyers said the doctor and the policemen should have foreseen the possibility of a fatality because the detainee, Khaled Abuzarifa, had complained of breathing problems due to a medical condition.

Abuzarifa's death occurred in 1999 when he was being put on a plane in Zurich to be deported to Egypt. He had been convicted of drug trafficking and had been ordered to leave the country.

Under the procedure permitted at the time, his captors strapped him into a wheelchair and taped his mouth to prevent him from shouting.

The prosecutor said the doctor assured police that the procedure posed no health risk for the detainee. But the victim lost consciousness within a few minutes.

The policemen allegedly waited too long before removing the gag and attempting to resuscitate him.

The police authorities say the officers acted according to regulations, and it was up to the court to rule whether any laws were broken.

Following Abuzarifa's death, the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, called for better training of police and medical staff assisting deportation procedures. The organisation also successfully argued for a reform of the deportation procedures.

As a result of Amnesty' lobbying, the authorities changed the regulations, and police are no longer allowed to gag deportees.

Police must also hire private charter planes for deportations. The national airline, Swissair, refuses to allow deportees on board.

In a separate case in February, a Nigerian detainee died in apparently similar circumstances while police were preparing to deport him.

swissinfo with agencies


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