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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 19:53 GMT
Austrian police face 'torture' charge
Flower's laid in memory of Marcus Omofuma
Mr Omofuma's case sparked public outcry
Three Austrian policemen have gone on trial charged with torture over the death of a Nigerian asylum-seeker they deported.


He could have shaken his head or blinked his eyes to show us he was feeling bad

Josef B
The 25-year-old man, Marcus Omofuma, died three years' ago after being bound and gagged during a flight from Austria to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. He had been due to fly on from there to Nigeria.

The three officers deny charges of physical torture of a prisoner resulting in death.

One of them, Josef B, told the court at Korneuburg near Vienna that gagging had been a normal practice.

"No lawyers ever told us it was not allowed, or that it was punishable," he said.

He said that Mr Omofuma had been so aggressive in resisting his deportation that they had to restrain him.

Protestor gagged and tied to a plane seat
Demonstrators gathered at the courthouse to protest at Omofuma's death
"We were forced to act in this way because, at first, he fought against his deportation and bit a colleague on the hand," Josef B said.

"We left several centimetres of room in his bonds. He could have shaken his head or blinked his eyes to show us he was feeling bad," he said.

A second officer said that he checked during the flight that Mr Omofuma's nose was kept free and that he could breathe.

Public anger

But the prosecuting lawyer denounced their actions, saying they had no right to treat Mr Omofuma "like a mummy".

Anonymous witnesses have said that Mr Omofuma could not breathe and that a belt had been tied around his chest as tightly as possible.

The case has sparked a public outcry in Austria over forcible deportations of immigrants and three former interior ministers have been called as witnesses.

Several dozen people protested outside the courthouse as the trial got under way.

The trial is expected to last several weeks. If found guilty, the policemen face up to 10 years in jail.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Europe
Europe's immigration vision
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