The Importance of Appearances: How Suspects and Accused Persons are Presented in the Courtroom, in Public and in The Media Research

The presumption of innocence is one of the most important principles of the modern human rights system with immense importance being placed on the safeguarding the rights of a person facing criminal proceedings. In other words, presumption of innocence a safeguard against wrongful convictions and a legal tool for ensuring that every person is innocent until proven guilty. Research on public perception of guilt of apprehended persons in Croatia has yielded several key finding regarding presumption of innocence. First and foremost, participants are likely to judge apprehended person as guilty because of the mere presence of the police. In a conducted survey 3 groups of photographs were shown to 3 groups of people. Each group of photographs represented one restraining measure, ranging from no restraint (Group 1), mild (Group 2) to severe (Group 3) and respondents were asked whether or not they thought the person shown in the photograph is guilty. These are the results: As can be seen, no matter what the measure of restraints were, there is a high level of agreement that the person in the photograph is guilty, even when no restraining measure are applied (Group 1). Second key finding shows that not only respondents tend to see person as a guilty no matter what restraining measure is applied, but this perception of guilt rises as the level of force and physical restraint increases. It is clear that respondents understand this social situation not through the lenses of the concept of presumption of innocence, but as a process by which they tend to trust the police and their actions. That public perception of apprehended person is crucial is enforced in the third finding as well. The research showed that respondents were more likely to see a person as guilty if they ascribed negative characteristics to him/her, such as aggressive, dangerous, threatening, repulsive and hot-tempered. These results came from a focus group which showed that a participant’s negative perception stemmed from their definition of the situation: if police are present, the person is guilty. Moreover, focus group participants tend to see a guilty person in stereotypical ways - wearing a hoodie translates to, by their impression, looking like a hooligan; wearing sunglasses translates to hiding something. The maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is incorporated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and is one of fundamental postulates of EU Directive (2016/343). According to the Directive, all Member States have to ensure that suspects and accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law. Main objective of this research was to contribute to the correct implementation of the Directive and show that manner in which person is apprehended is crucial. Therefore the police, but also the media who report on the arrests, should be aware of the notion that every person is innocent until proven otherwise.

Human Rights in Croatia: Overview of 2017

Human Rights in Croatia: Overview of 2017 is an annual report of the Human Rights House Zagreb and partner civil society organisations dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights in different areas of social life. The goal of such comprehensive and systematic annual review is to provide insight into the violations, problems, challenges and controversies that were present in the field of protection and promotion of human rights during the previous year. This report was created based on year-round monitoring and information collected from relevant stakeholders from civil society organisations and the academic community professionally engaged in human rights. Although comprehensive, this report does not claim to include all human rights violations and problems in 2017.

Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe: Understanding the playbook of illiberal governments to better resist them

Two decades ago, in his controversial but prophetic article “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy”, Fareed Zakaria warned of the fragile and vulnerable character of democracy and pointed to the worrying rise in the occurrence of so-called illiberal democracies. Indeed, today we are witnessing an epidemic of passing “rotten”, restrictive laws that strive to narrow the scope of civil society action. Playing on emotions, under the guise of nationalism and feelings of false belonging, a new Berlin wall is being built (raised), the one between “us” and “them”. Authoritarian rulers who come to power begin the transformation of democracy in which the winner defines all the rules. As a product of this game of disguise, in numerous countries with democratically elected authorities, civil and political rights are often systematically neglected. With the aim of manipulating masses, pillars of democracy such as the rule of law, independent judiciary, respect for minority rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the media and freedom of assembly are systematically ignored or abused. In other words, the concept of democracy is reduced to a mere multiparty system, while at the same time all the remaining fundamental components needed for an adequate functioning of a democratic pluralistic society are being  suppressed or institutionally marginalized. In order to raise awareness of this burning problem, the Human Rights House Zagreb (HRHZ) in cooperation with the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) and its partners from Croatia, Poland, Hungary and Serbia published the report “Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe: Understanding the playbook of illiberal governments to better resist them”, in which comparative case study conducted in Croatia, Hungary, Poland and Serbia is presented, in order to identify forms of political behaviour and practices that undermine the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and marginalise minorities, as well as to present examples of best practices in combating illiberal democracies.

Human Rights Brief: Freedom of the Press

Human Rights House Zagreb expressed deep concern with the Government’s crackdown on non-profit media as well as the unacceptable political influence over the independence, and the autonomy of Croatian Radiotelevision. Further, HRHZ emphasised the potential threats stemming from censorship at HRT, and pointed out the abuse of the legitimate fight against anti-Semitism and related intolerances as a justification to infringe on the right to free expression. Human Rights House Zagreb expressed deep concern with the Government’s political pressure on the independence of the Council of the Electronic Media and the crackdown on its autonomy, stressing the unacceptable attempt to overthrow the Council of the Electronic Media by intimidating its President, Mrs. Rakić with incitement to hatred and fascistic chanting. Finally, emphasising on the importance of independence of the public broadcasting company and regulating bodies, HRHZ condemned the actions of the Croatian Government and calls for immediate improvement of the conditions for freedom of the press and annulation of the political influence.

Human Rights Brief: Freedom of the Association and Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights House Zagreb expressed deep concern with the defamation, stigmatization and hostility campaign carried out by the state officials against human rights civil society organizations emphasizing that human rights civil society organizations are vital actors in a democratic society whose work strives for the full fulfilment of universally established human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human Rights House Zagreb strongly condemned Government’s crackdown on civil society organizations and freedom of association, circumvention of a social dialogue, and expressed great concern with the Government’s abuse of power for the sake of retaliation against human rights groups vocally critical of its policies. Finally, Human Rights House Zagreb called for the immediate cessation of the negative public portrayals, smear campaigns, and stigmatizations of human rights defenders and organizations; and the hostile attempts to disintegrate the civil society sector.

© 2019 Kuća Ljudskih Prava

To the top ↑