A decade on: Oury Jalloh's death in a German police cell
Yesterday, 7th January 2015, marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Oury Jalloh, a young man from Sierra Leone whose body was found burned in a police holding cell in Dessau, Germany. Activists have, over the last decade, have attempted to articulate the extent of police involvement in Jalloh’s death, under the slogan ‘Oury Jalloh, das war Mord!’' (Oury Jalloh – it was murder!). Indeed, there is no convincing evidence that this case did not involve foul play, while there is a catalogue of examples of investigative failures, conflicting police testimony, and fantastic (as in fantasy) accounts of what happened. The man was cuffed by hands and feet to the cell, though this is typically done only in the rarest of circumstances. Of hours of forensics footage, only 4 minutes have been recovered due to some technical error. His body and the fireproof mattress had been completely charred within 30 minutes. There was no nor-adrenaline (which mirrors levels of excitement) found in his blood, which potentially means he was unconscious or dead when the fire broke out. An independent autopsy found a broken nose and burst eardrum, whereas the initial state autopsy did not report such findings. This, by the way, is the tip of the iceberg.
Now, the main legal remedies at the national level having been exhausted, activists are left to make the case of Jalloh’s death through awareness campaigns about the circumstances of his death. They also commissioned an independent fire investigation in 2013, the analysis of which was made public at a press conference in 2014 at the Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte, that garnered national media attention. The investigative analysis provided convincing evidence that the extent of the burns to Jalloh’s body and the mattress he was on were really only conceivable if created with the help of some form of fuel or accelerant, which Jalloh would not have had at his disposal while fixed to the cell wall and tiled mattress platform.
The Initiative in Remembrance of Oury Jalloh organised a demonstration and issued a press release for the tenth anniversary of Jalloh’s death. The press release summarises the current judicial posture and recent investigative failings, concluding that the relevant investigative institutions are not interested in uncovering the mysterious circumstances of Jalloh’s death. You can read a quote from the press release in the left-hand margin (my translation).
The German public owes a great deal to these activists, who continually shine a light on the injustice faced by society’s most vulnerable.
To read the original press release (in German), click here.
To keep up to date with the activist group, check www.initiativeouryjalloh.wordpress.com.
For one of my older pieces on Jalloh's trial, where I compare it to the Stephen Lawrence case in the UK, see 'Germany's Stephen Lawrence.' For a recent piece that looks briefly at race and deaths in custody cases in Germany, see 'German Policing at the Intersection'.