Jean Louis spent the last few minutes before his arrest frantically trying to understand what was happening to him.
At 9:40 AM on a bright Tuesday morning in late October, three plainclothes police officers for the city of Prijedor in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entered his home without a warrant, and without so much as a knock on the door. They demanded to see his identification but refused his repeated requests to explain why they were there. And the policemen, who wore polo shirts, jeans, and tracksuit jackets, also refused to identify themselves.
Then Jean Louis politely asked the three police officers to step outside while he searched for his documents. He closed the door behind him, and emerged with his phone, which he used to record roughly three minutes worth of video footage of his encounter with the Prijedor police. On this video clip one officer in a black and white tracksuit with a shaved head finally reveals why the police had singled Louis out. “You’re suspicious and unknown,” the policeman says darkly.
At 9:55, just 15 minutes after police forcibly entered Louis’s home, a uniformed cop joined them. Louis was placed in handcuffs and brought to the police station where he was interrogated. Later, the officers would claim that they had been looking for someone else.
Jean Louis, a tan and conventionally attractive man, was born in the former Yugoslavia. But as he’s written on “Police violation of human rights – Prijedor”, a Facebook page he created to draw attention to the misconduct of the local police force, his name “is strange to [the police] because it’s not Dragan or Nermin”. In other words, his identity does not fit within any of the three narrowly-defined ethnic categories of the largely segregated state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Prijedor, Louis explained to me in an email this week, is a city “known by genocide second only to Srebrenica”. In 1992, Serbian paramilitary units massacred thousands of Bosniaks and Croats, and non-Serbs were forced to identify themselves by flying white flags outside of their doors.
But as Louis has emphasized repeatedly, Serbs are also victims of harassment and violence in Republika Srpska. “I am absolutely sure that Serbs in Prijedor aren’t protected,” he writes. And Louis, who describes himself as cosmopolitan and rejects any claim to a particular nationality, carefully monitors his Facebook page for commenters who reduce the problem of police misconduct and brutality to a question of ethnicity.
“I disapprove of comments that are based on hatred of any nationality,” he wrote in a recent note to the page’s followers. “Anyone smart will understand that since this thing happened in Prijedor, there are indoctrinated people who would blame the Serbs for it. If it had happened in the Federation, indoctrinated people would blame the Bosniaks for it. Such comments are inspired by hatred and do not improve equality before the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Louis contacted me earlier this week after reading about my own experience with the authorities in Belgrade. He felt it was important to remind everyone of this: “Police in Serbia and Bosnia and any other country, by law, must first identify themselves, and explain the reason for asking for your identification.”
On Monday, we called the police to report that officers had entered our home without permission. It’s been nearly a week and they have yet to contact us.
Meanwhile, Louis has sent numerous letters and faxes to the Interior Ministry of Republika Srpska since October, but has never gotten a reply.