By Elias Hazou
A well-known human rights activist was late on Thursday night released from the Central Prisons where he spent several hours after being arrested for an unpaid traffic fine earlier in the day.
Polycarpou, director of the immigrant support group KISA, was let go around 9pm, reportedly due to an intervention from the ministers of the interior and justice.
Coming out of the Central Prisons, the activist told media that he was led handcuffed to the prisons and placed in a wing with hard-core felons.
Earlier in the afternoon, Polycarpou was arrested while trying to gain entry to a holding facility for illegal immigrants at Menoyia, Larnaca.
Immigration Department officers detained and arrested Polycarpou at the gate on the strength of a court warrant for his arrest over a €160 unpaid traffic fine.
The fine dates back to 2007.
Polycarpou had been held at Menoyia for approximately an hour, after which he was transported to the Central Prisons in Nicosia.
KISA said Polycarpou’s arrest and imprisonment by police was “a vindictive response to KISA’s ongoing revelations about the detainment conditions of undocumented migrants at Menoyia.”
Kleitos Papastylianou, a communications officer for KISA, speculated the incident was related to the release earlier this week of the latest report of the UN’s Committee Against Torture. The report expressed among others concern over the numerous allegations of ill-treatment by police at the Menoyia centre, leading to protests and hunger strikes.
“This is over the top…and clearly harassment on the part of police,” Papastylianou told the Mail.
“The arrest was both irregular and illegal,” he added.
He said Polycarpou had notified authorities (including the chief of police) in advance that he would be visiting Menoyia to check on the condition of unaccompanied minors being held there.
On arriving at the facility on Thursday afternoon, Polycarpou was told to wait at the gate, after which he was informed by special constables there of the arrest warrant and was taken into police custody and then driven to Nicosia’s Central Prisons.
According to Papastylianou, Polycarpou’s lawyer tried to arrange a visitation later in the day but was told by prison authorities that visiting hours were over.
Papastylianou said also that Polycarpou had a few days ago contacted authorities and informed them he intended to pay the fine by month’s end. Apparently Polycarpou got reassurances that this would not be a problem.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides offered a different account. He said Polycarpou recently spoke with the police’s execution of warrants squad (EWS), which had advised him of the warrant and that he could be arrested on the spot.
Asked whether the Immigration Department officers have the power to execute an arrest warrant, the spokesman said any member of the police force possesses this authority.
On the timing of the arrest, Angelides said only that “Mr. Polycarpou was aware that he would be arrested if he visited Menoyia. Officers there were just following procedure.”