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27.06.2007

Torture continues in Ukraine’s prisons

   

Beatings and torture are everyday in Ukrainian prisons, and the public have little way of finding out what is happening.  Human rights defenders took the occasion of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture to try to attract attention to this appalling anomaly for any country trying to live by the rule of law.

Prisoners who have suffered torture or arbitrary brutality have difficulty proving what they went through since Ukraine lacks an independent system for investigating such crimes.

An example can be seen in the events in the Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 31 in the Khmelnytsky region.  Prisoners had tried to hold a hunger strike in protest against the conditions however it ended in reprisals against the organizers of the protest.

Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Yevhen Zakharov gave some details from the outcome of a civic investigation.

“They were called out and their faces were thrust into the ground; they were beaten with rubber batons, attached to a wire and beaten until they signed papers saying that they didn’t have any complaints against the convoy, against the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre]. After that they were taken to different colonies and are now being subjected to serious pressure. Their parents say that they are being intimidated and that they want to increase their sentences”.

For its part, the State Department for the Execution of Sentences denies that there were any beatings at all, and the Prosecutor General has refused to launch a criminal investigation since none of the prisoners has made an official statement.

The system is closed, and may become more so

Human rights groups explain the lack of official complaints as due to the penal system being extremely secret and prisoners simply being intimidated.  In fact the situation may become worse. Yevhen Zakharov warns that it may even become harder for the public to see what is happening in penal institutions. Over the last few days an Order was passed according to which members of the public, organizations and institutions, as well as journalists, will only have any access at weekends.

A delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture carried out a visit in 2005 and published its report in Strasbourg last week. These are some of the cases they learned of:

The alleged forms of ill-treatment mainly consisted of punches, kicks and baton blows. Allegations were also made about slaps on the ears with open hands, painful handcuffing (behind the back with one arm over the shoulder), belt or baseball bat blows. Further, mention was made of a metal weight placed on a part of the body, of asphyxiation using a gas mask and of being beaten while handcuffed, with hands and feet tied or maintained in a hyperextended position, or of a stick being inserted into the anus. In some cases, the severity of the ill-treatment alleged – which could also consist of a combination of several forms of ill-treatment – was such that it could be considered as amounting to torture.

The authorities see only improvements

The government , in responding to the report, stated that police officers breaching the law are punished and that “the overall situation in places of deprivation of liberty is improving”.

Fairly recently an article of the Criminal Code came into force envisaging punishment for torture of from three to five years. Under this article last year, 127 criminal investigations were launched, however not one case ended in a conviction.

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