British Columbia

B.C. professor out on bail after 11 months detained in Slovakia

Prof. David Scheffel, 63, still isn't allowed to leave the city of Prešov as he hasn't stood trial, but this is the first time he's been allowed outside of the local remand centre since his arrest in November 2017.

Thompson Rivers University's David Scheffel was arrested in Prešov in November 2017

Prof. David Scheffel, 63, pictured in Prešov, Slovakia on Saturday after being released on bail. Scheffel had been detained in the Eastern European country since November 2017. (David Scheffel)

A B.C.-based professor who's been detained in Slovakia for nearly a year is out on bail.

Prof. David Scheffel, 63, still isn't allowed to leave the city of Prešov, but this is the first time he's been allowed outside of the local remand centre since his arrest in November 2017.

"When I was told, 'You can go, you can pack your belongings [to leave] ... It was overwhelming," he said during a phone call from his home in the Eastern European country on Friday.

Scheffel has been accused of child pornography, sexual violence and arms trafficking — charges his allies at home believe were fabricated as retaliation against the research he's done abroad.

Arrest and detention

The Thompson Rivers University anthropology professor has spent the better part of 30 years researching the Roma in Slovakia — one of the most marginalized populations in Europe — with a particular focus on the rampant prostitution of Romani youth.

A complaint was filed against him in mid-2017. Scheffel was arrested and charged on Nov. 11.

Prof. David Scheffel, pictured at Thompson Rivers University, where he's been an anthropology professor for nearly 30 years. (Thompson Rivers University)

The professor's bail was granted on Sept. 3, but he stayed behind bars for another three weeks as the prosecution appealed.

"Those three weeks were excruciating," Scheffel said during a phone call Friday.

Arrest in Prešov

Scheffel — as well as his family and friends — believe his imprisonment is punishment for his work.

"This involves research that can upset and embarrass people who then can turn against you, and I think that's what happened," said Ivan Somlai, who helped develop a six-year social service delivery project with Scheffel in 1997. "[It's] the type of work, unfortunately, that would bring enemies.

"He's a wonderful family man and respected professor, and we're absolutely convinced it's contrived in his case."

From left: University of Prešov Prof. Alexander Musinka, Prof. David Scheffel, Ivan Somlai and former Svinia mayor Miloslav Mihok during a research trip to the Romani village in 1997. (Ivan Somlai)

In July, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Canadian Anthropology Society expressed concern about the circumstances of Scheffel's arrest.

The professor's family and Slovakian research partners helped Scheffel retain Daniel Lipšic, a former deputy prime minister of Slovakia, as counsel in July.

Scheffel was released under several conditions, including wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle.

His trial is expected to begin next month and continue into the new year.

"I don't know how much longer it's going to take before this is all over, but it's going to be months and quite a few months still," Scheffel said.

"One battle is won but the war is not yet fought."

Canada 'limited' for options 

Global Affairs Canada said the Canadian government isn't involved in Scheffel's case as he doesn't have citizenship, and officials are limited in what they can do to help non-citizens detained abroad.

Scheffel is Dutch, though he's been a permanent resident in Canada for more than 30 years.

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