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24.07.2008

Impunity breeds arrogance and overstepping authority

   

Violations of human rights in Ukraine by the State authorities are an everyday occurrence, with this especially true of the police. The relations between authorities and the individual are clearly regulated only on paper, not in practice. What can be more dangerous than when police officers, in order to improve their figures on solved crimes, use torture to beat out confessions and when, after their victims turn for defence to the prosecutor’s office, apply physical force against the latter’s staff and resort to abductions and force the people to withdraw their complaints?

One such case occurred last month in Kharkiv.  During the early hours of 27 June a person was brutally murdered in a building in the Frunzensky district.

That evening, Y and his wife were taken in for questioning by officers of the Frunzensky Police Criminal Investigation Department [CID].  They entered Y’s home without a warrant.

The couple were held in the CID office for 24 hours without any procedural document being drawn up, not even a protocol of detention as required by Article 106 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The author points out that this should surprise nobody since the CID has been ignoring this requirement for 10-15 years at least. He assumes that such occurs by no means only in this district of Kharkiv.

On 28 June Y. was provided with legal defence via the pilot scheme for Legal Aid which provides assistance in criminal cases. From then on everything was done in accordance with the law.

Y. initially confessed to the murder since he was afraid that the CID officers would continue torturing him. However when being interrogated as the accused, he retracted this confession and said that the CID officers had forced it out of him through torture and by threatening to torture his wife in front of him. Nobody had informed him of his constitutional rights, and when he asked to be provided with a lawyer, the officers laughed and said that he’d watched too many films where the police respect not only the law, but also people’s individual rights.

Y’s wife was not treated as badly and unlike her husband no traces were left on her body of physical force applied. Y’s mother-in-law who had already been taken to the police station before the couple were detained was spared any physical force, however she, together with her son-in-law and daughter were all threatened. Furthermore, during the 24 hours when the couple were held unlawfully, they were given nothing to eat or drink.

Physical and psychological pressure was exerted on Y’s wife only in order to get her to sign testimony claiming that her husband had told her about the murder.  The question, however, arises how any wife, assuming that relations were normal within the family would have testified against her husband had she been informed of the provisions of Article 63 of the Constitution.

Y was remanded in custody, and in the evening of 1 July, the Frunzensky District Prosecutor, having studied the material of the case, heard the version of the investigator, the explanation of the defending counsel and the remanded man, and seen the bruises and scratches on Y’s body began an enquiry into the lawfulness of the CID officers’ behaviour. Furthermore, given the absence of sufficient proof of Y’s guilt, the Prosecutor rejected the application for remand in custody and had Y. released.

The enquiry began immediately, and both Y. and his wife began telling prosecutor’s office employees their account of what happened in the CID.

Late in the evening, after the couple had given their explanations and were in the office of the Deputy Prosecutor while the question of a forensic examination was being considered, people in authority in the Frunzensky District Police burst into the office. They used physical force against all those in the office and abducted Y. and his wife.

The Prosecutor reacted swiftly to this unlawful behaviour by the police and in a short time, prosecutor’s office officers were checking the premises of the Frunzensky District Police Station where they found Y’s wife. Y however was not there since the police had had time to grab and hide him. It was only after officers of the Department for Internal Security of the Central Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Kharkiv region were called in, as well as the Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs on Human Rights and officers of the SBU [Security Service], that Y. was returned, around 22.00 on 2 July.

At present the Prosecutor has initiated a criminal investigation under Article 365 of the Criminal Code with regard to the Deputy Head of the Frunzensky District Police, the Head and Deputy Head of the CID who directly participated in the attack on the prosecutor’s office. The pre-trial investigation is continuing, however analysing the above circumstances, there are grounds for considering that the behaviour of officers of the Frunzensky District Police there were elements of a number of crimes, namely:

  • Exceeding their authority and duty (Article 365 § 2 of the Criminal Code);
  • Torture (Article 127 § 3;
  • Forcing a person to give testimony (Article 373 § 2
  • Infringement of the right to defence (Article 374 § 2)
  • Unlawful deprivation of liberty or abduction of a person (Article 146 § 2;
  • Interference with the work of an employee of a law enforcement body (Article  343 § 2)

Now the last word, as they say, is with the prosecutor’s office … and with the court.

Based on an account by Mykhailo Bily

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