A Threat to each and every one of us
In his article under the above title, Volodymyr Batsunov writes of the widespread use by Ukrainian police of violence. He points to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group’s blog “Against Torture” which gathers information from the media and other sources about those who have become victims of police violence.
If one compares 2009 and 2010, he says, one sees a noticeable increase.
He mentions cases which have gained publicity and received coverage, including here.
The Death of Ihor Indylo in the Shevchenkivsky District Police Station in Kyiv
On the evening of 17 May an altercation took place between Ihor Indylo, a student of the Makarenko College who was about to turn 20 and his neighbour in the hostel, a district police inspector. Ihor was asked to accompany the police officer to the Shevchenkivsky District Police Station which he did without any resistance. The next day his parents were contacted and told to come and collect their son’s body.
Ihor’s body was covered in bruises and cuts. The death certificate writes of brain haemorrhaging, fractured skull, injuries resulting from contact with a blunt item.
The police claimed that Ihor received his injuries having fallen several times on the floor in an inebriated state.
The author does not mention that it was thanks initially to a report on TV 1 + 1 that information about the young man’s death spread and caused considerable protest. It seems likely that this was the reason the case was not hushed up.
On 28 May the Shevchenkivsky District Prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation on a charge of exceeding official powers by officers of the Shevchenkivsky District Police Station. The Human Rights Ombudsperson called Ihor’s death murder.
All assurances were made that there would be a full and objective investigation. However the media reported also that the investigators had been talking to Ihor’s former doctors, taking his medical records and trying to attribute his death to childhood injuries (cf. khpg.org/index.php?id=1282773659).
According to Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union lawyer, Oleh Levytsky, the investigation has run into a brick wall because the fatal blow was inflicted by one of the heads of the police station. He says that had it been the officer who brought him in, he would have been handed over ages ago.
He explains that the preliminary hearings took place in November with two police officers facing charges under the articles of the Criminal Code on “exceeding ones power” and “professional negligence”. This carries a punishment from a fine of 850 UAH to 8 years imprisonment. The questioning of witnesses began in the Desnyansky Court in Kyiv from 12-14 January and will continue in February.
See also khpg.org/index.php?id=1291242229 and the links below.
The Death of Dmytro Yashchuk in the Sviatoshynsky District Police Station in Kyiv
On 13 June in the Sviatoshynsky District Police Station in Kyiv 25-year-old Dmytro Yashchuk was found hanged. The police claim that he was detained for using drugs and that he committed suicide. His family does not believe this, and they say that he no longer took drugs having undergone a course of treatment. They are also sceptical of the video supposedly confirming the act of killing himself which was not provided for viewing immediately.
His family asserts that they are being subjected to pressure and that the police are trying to reach an agreement with them.
The Kyiv Prosecutor finally allowed an independent forensic examination which, it transpired later, did not find any trace of drugs or alcohol.
The mother of Anton Zhyhinas asserts that her son was beaten by the police who were trying to force him to say that Dmytro Yashchuk had beaten him.
Dmytro’s brother believes that the delay in the investigation is an attempt by the law enforcement officers to conceal their guilt.
At present there is no information in the media about the case.
The case of Yakov Strogan, Kharkiv
During the evening of 15 August 2010, an argument and fight broke out between Yakov Strogan and his neighbour, Mr. M. Around 1 a.m. on 16 August, police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv arrived, but Strogan did not let them in. At 6 a.m. when Strogan opened the door to the police officers, they grabbed him and took him to one of the Kievsky District Police Station sections. From there he was taken to the forest, brutally beaten and subjected to sophisticated form of torture, including the use of electric shocks and a chemical substance (they poured liquid ammonia down his nose and mouth). He was then, over a period of 4 days, held in a secret flat during which time they demanded 10 thousand dollars from his wife. When his wife failed to gather the required sum of money, Strogan was released on condition that he find the amount himself.
After being released, Strogan made a statement to the Kievsky District Prosecutor’s Office asking that a criminal investigation be initiated against the police officers who had kidnapped and beaten him. A forensic examination was carried out which found various bodily injuries which the doctors assessed as of medium severity. On 29 October the Prosecutor’s Office issued a refusal to initiate a criminal investigation stating that he had light bodily injuries and that the police officers had not been involved in inflicting them.
On 19 November 2010, Strogan, together with representatives of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, gave a press conference at which he spoke of what had happened to him in August. Material from this press conference was widely circulated in Kharkiv and throughout the country.
On 1 December 2010, Strogan took part in hearings on human rights observance by the police held by a Parliamentary Committee, during which his story was once again reported and noted by the Human Rights Ombudsperson.
Throughout August to December Strogan was constantly at the prosecutor’s office demanding that an investigation be undertaken into his torture allegations and offering to assist with the investigation.
On 9 December Strogan was summoned to the investigator at the Kievsky District Police Station as a witness for interrogation over the incident with his neighbour. There he was arrested. As became clear, after he published information about the events in August, a criminal investigation was initiated over the fight with his neighbour, and Strogan was accused of attempting to murder his neighbour, M.
According to the investigator, during the examination carried out 2 and a half months after the fight, M. was found to have bodily injuries of medium severity in the form of knife wounds. Two months later M. also asserted that Strogan had a knife during their fight. The justification for the arrest states that Strogan could try to hide from the police.
On 9 December, Strogan’s wife saw her husband in the Kievsky District Police Station without any visible injuries.
On 10 December at around 15.30 he was brought to the Kievsky District Court to decide whether he was to be remanded in custody. His wife and representatives of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group present in the court saw considerable bleeding around his left eye, a red patch on his neck and signs of bleeding on his body. Strogan had difficulty in both moving and breathing. In the courtroom, he became weak and at his wife’s insistence an ambulance was called. The ambulance found that Strogan had a closed skull and brain injury and concussion and needed to be seen by a neurosurgeon. Judge Muratova did not allow him to be hospitalized and even gave a validol tablet (with mild sedative and vascular dilation effect).
It is known that on the evening of 9 December an ambulance was also called for Strogan which identified bodily injuries. He was also taken to a neurosurgeon during the night from 9 to 10 December.
During the hearing Strogan explained that after being arrested he was beaten by the police officers involved in his beating in August. He also stated that investigator Ishchenko present at the hearing had taken part in the beating.
After examining the material presented by the investigation, Judge Muratova remanded Strogan in custody. The only grounds were that Strogan had a previous conviction. The judge did not take into account the fact that over several months Strogan had not only not attempted to abscond, but had constantly been in contact with the law enforcement agencies. The surety offered by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group to ensure his appearance in court was also not taken into account without any reason being given.
At the present time it is not clear what measures Judge Muratova and Prosecutor Surzhenko (who both heard Strogan’s allegations about torture in the Kievsky District Police Station) have taken with regard to the allegations.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Group sent a telegram on 10 December 2010 to the Prosecutor’s Office demanding that the circumstances of his beating be investigated.
Volodymyr Batsunov considers reasons cited by specialists for the use of unlawful force by the police. They name the following:
the lack of possibility for those detained to received legal assistance (free or for payment);
not being able to inform ones relatives or a lawyer of having been detained;
not receiving medical assistance at the detention stage;
the fact that officers’ work is assessed by statistical figures – the number of detentions, confessions, etc; This clearly results in innocent people having confessions beaten out of them. The author mentions the case of the serial killer Tkach – a number of innocent people were convicted of the rapes and murders that he in fact committed.
He mentions also the deaths of two people who supposedly jumped from the same Loziv Police Station in the Kharkiv region: Laslo Kolomparov and Oksana Bondarenko.
In 2011 there have already been 5 deaths in police custody.
At the first press conference on Strogan’s allegations, KHPG lawyer Aigul Mukanova stated that there seemed to be a well-organized business among the police in abducting people and demanding a ransom. She said that the details Yakov Strogan gave were not possible to make up and showed, for example, awareness by his torturers of what to do in order to not leave a trace. She stressed that the measures used: handcuffs with tape underneath, so that there wouldn’t be bruises, the equipment for torture had all clearly been prepared in advance.
The increase in deaths in police custody and police violence in general come at the same time as the dissolution of the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Police, the nearest Ukraine had got to a national preventive mechanism against torture, required within a year of Ukraine’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
The author stresses that people need to understand that anybody can become the victim of unlawful police actions. He recalls the joint actions in defence of Gorky Park in Kharkiv as demonstration of civil society. He also reminds his readers of the need to be informed about how to behave if detained, etc, and refers them to a special section of the blog against torture: Practical Advice.