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.
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.
German courts have dismissed the possibility that anyone other than Jalloh could have started the fire
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.