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Call for fresh inquiry into African asylum seeker's death

Mark Caldwell (AFP,dpa,epd)November 12, 2013

Almost nine years after an African asylum seeker died from smoke poisoning in a police cell in eastern Germany, activists are calling for a fresh inquiry into his death. They claim to have found fresh evidence.

Akten stehen am 11.12.2012 für den Prozess um den Feuertod des Asylbewerbers Oury Jalloh im Landgericht in Magdeburg (Sachsen-Anhalt) bereit. In dem nach BGH-Entscheidung neu aufgerollten Prozess um den Tod des Asylbewerbers Oury Jalloh aus Sierra-Leone in einer Polizeizelle in Dessau soll geklärt werden, ob ein Polizist am Tod Jallohs eine Mitschuld trägt. Der Asylbewerber war 2005 in Dessau-Roßlau bei einem Brand in einer Polizeizelle ums Leben gekommen. Foto: Jens Wolf/dpa
Two trials in Germany have attempted to clear up the circumstances of the death of Oury JallohImage: picture alliance/dpa

The campaign "Initiative in memory of Oury Jalloh" (Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh) has called on Germany's chief public prosecutor in Karlsruhe to start a fresh investigation into the death of Oury Jalloh, on suspicion of murder or manslaughter committed by an unknown police officer.

In Berlin, the campaign unveiled a new expert opinion, which activists say refutes the previous version of events whereby the asylum-seeker started the fire that led to his death. Rather it strengthens suspicions that a third party was involved.

Fire and explosion investigator, Maksim Smirnou, who is based in Ireland and the UK, told German media a combustive agent was probably used to start the fire.

Mouctar Bah, spokesman for "Initiative in memory of Oury Jalloh," said they had chosen a foreign arson investigator because of their lack of confidence in German fire experts, who worked closely with the German justice authorities and were dependent on them.

**ARCHIV**Der Brandsachverstaendige Klaus Steinbach bereitet am 25. April 2008, im Feuerwehrinstitut in Heyrothsberge bei Magdeburg einen Versuch vor. Gut drei Jahre nach dem Tod des afrikanischen Asylbwerbers Oury Jalloh wurde erneut der Brand in einer Dessauer Gewahrsamzelle rekonstruiert. Jalloh starb am 7. Jan. 2005 bei einem Brand in einer Arrestzelle der Polizei in Dessau. Am Dessauer Landgericht hat am Montag 8. Dezember 2008 der voraussichtlich entscheidende Verhandlungstag im Prozess um den im Polizeigewahrsam gestorbenen Asylbewerber Oury Jalloh begonnen. Nach den Plaedoyers von Staatsanwalt, drei Nebenklaegern und den Verteidigern der beiden angeklagten Polizisten soll am Nachmittag das Urteil gesprochen werden. (AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz.fls) ----**
German courts have dismissed the possibility that anyone other than Jalloh could have started the fireImage: AP

Two trials

Police in the city of Dessau in Saxony-Anhalt, eastern Germany, took Jalloh into custody on 7 January 2005 after he had allegedly harassed two women while he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He died in a police cell from smoke poisoning after apparently having set fire to his own mattress, even though he was bound hand and foot at the time.

Two trials attempted to clear up the circumstances of his death. In December 2012, a policeman, named by the German media only as Andreas S., was fined 10,800 euros ($14,500) after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The court said he should have kept a closer watch over Jalloh. The judges dismissed the possibility that anybody other than Jalloh could have started the fire.

Germany's Left Party, whose traditional strongholds are in eastern Germany, has called for fresh investigations. "The way in which Jalloh's death was handled constitutes one of the biggest legal scandals in Germany," said Ulla Jelpke, domestic affairs spokesperson for the Left Party in the German parliament. "The judiciary must go back to square one and start the case anew – with different prosecutors and different judges," she added.

Reacting to the opinion commissioned by the activists, Dessau public prosecutor Folker Bittmann spoke of "very serious, surprising and in part horrifying information." It was likely that the authorities would launch a fresh investigation. He dismissed allegations that investigators had deliberately ignored certain lines of inquiry.