Kamloops this Week

B.C. professor jailed in Slovakia

David Scheffel is in jail in Slovakia facing charges of child pornography, sexual violence and arms trafficking

  • Apr. 11, 2018 5:00 p.m.

—Kamloops this Week

Thompson Rivers University professor David Scheffel is in jail in Slovakia facing charges of child pornography, sexual violence and arms trafficking.

Scheffel was arrested on Nov. 12, 2017, and has been in custody since. His request for bail was denied earlier this year and a new request filed with the Slovak court on April 4 has not been dealt with.

Scheffel wrote to KTW from his jail cell, saying he feels vulnerable and arguing his imprisonment is related to his research on juvenile Romani prostitutes, “but also to my previous advocacy on behalf of disenfranchised Roma in general.”

He noted a Slovak journalist who had been working on a story linking mafia-like organizations and Slovak authorities, including the police, was recently murdered.

Scheffel said TRU has been helping in “subtle but meaningful ways” to assist him and he does not feel abandoned by his employer.

He said he would like to see the Canadian government get involved or show “some degree of official interest,” but that he understands why it might not do that.

A representative of the Dutch government has visited him and is watching the case, Scheffel said.

Scheffel said the lawyer he has hired in Presov is expensive and a protracted case will be financially difficult.

People who know Scheffel say the situation arises from his research in the country on the Romani culture. It’s an area in which Scheffel is acknowledged to be an expert and one he has focused on since the early 1990s, taking students on field trips to Slovakia to live with Roma families.

There, students witness the oppression, discrimination and poverty that has Roma families segregated from mainstream society.

Scheffel has worked closely with Alexandrom Musinkom at the Roma Studies Institute at the University of Presov. Musinkom told a newspaper in his home country he has known Sheffel, who once taught him, for 25 years.

“I am convinced that this is nonsense,” Musinkom said of the charges.

Others familiar with Scheffel’s work said they believe authorities in Slovakia do not understand Scheffel has been studying the Roma — also known as gypsies — as a researcher only.

The Slovak reporter, Ingrid Timkova, wrote in her article that she had been told a scientist has been working with a Roma settlement in a village called Svinia in the Presov district. She wrote that scientist, who she did not name, made claims that one of the men in the village had been abusing his daughter.

The Slovak university gave Scheffel an honorary doctorate in 2012 to recognize the work he had been doing in Svinia. When asked by Slovak reporters to comment, the university said it could not because Scheffel is not an employee.

Thompson Rivers University administration told KTW it is monitoring the situation. Scheffel has been on the teaching staff at TRU since it was known as Cariboo College. He works in the anthropology department.

Complicating the situation, friends say, is the fact Scheffel does not have Canadian citizenship, despite living in Canada for decades.

He holds Dutch citizenship.

Presov reporters say the most serious crime he faces is sexual violence, which carries a sentence of of between seven and 15 years.

The European Roma Rights Centre, an organization dedicated to fighting for equal rights in Slovakia for the Roma, has said no Slovak government has addressed systemic racism against the population — estimated at about 500,000 people — since the 1980s. In January, the centre sued the Slovak ministry of the interior over what it calls discriminatory policing of the Roma and ethnic profiling. Romani children in the country are segregated in schools and often diagnosed as mentally disabled, the centre has said.

Scheffel has studied the Romani for about 16 years, publishing a book about them in 2005.

Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and Their Neighbours is a case study of Svinia and how its people have failed to integrate into their country’s population.

In 2016, Belonging and Domesticated Ethnicity in Velky Saris, Slovakia, published in Romani Studies, a research paper Scheffel published the year before, won a prize for best article at the Czechoslovak Studies Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

A statement from Scheffel’s family, sent to KTW, reads:

“David has spent the last 25 years telling the stories of the Slovak Roma — one of Europe’s most marginalized populations. He is responsible for major international aid investments and for putting a spotlight on systemic racism, corruption and injustice.

“We are completely convinced that David is innocent of the charges against him. He travelled to Slovakia in November knowing that police wanted to interview him and confident that he could clear his name. We now put our trust in David, his legal team and the Slovak courts to arrive at a just outcome. We ask that the family’s privacy be respected at this difficult time.”

Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and Their Neighbours is a case study of Svinia and how its people have failed to integrate into their country’s population.

In 2016, Belonging and Domesticated Ethnicity in Velky Saris, Slovakia, published in Romani Studies, a research paper Scheffel published the year before, won a prize for best article at the Czechoslovak Studies Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

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