Tortured for damaging a bust of Stalin
Members of the nationalist organization Tryzub who are charged with cutting off the head of the monument to Joseph Stalin on the territory of the Zaporizhya Communist Party claim that while in the SIZO [remand unit] they were tortured and isolated from lawyers and their relatives. As reported, seven members were released last week with some National Deputies acting as guarantors.
The Prosecutor’s Office says that at present there is no confirmation that the young men were tortured but that the checks will continue. Human rights groups and members of the opposition warn that politically motivated prosecutions are becoming widespread.
Tryzub , member from the Kirovohrad region, Roman Khmara was one of the eight young men who damaged the bust of Stalin on 28 December last year. He spent more than 3 months in the police, SBU [Security Service] and SIZO.
He says that in all those places they were forced to turn down meetings with their lawyers and relatives, were held in inhumane conditions and tortured.
“I was subjected to physical violence back in Ivano-Frankivsk, before they put me on a plane to Zaporizhya. And when they took us to the local SBU, I expected psychological pressure. There they tried to drag out an answer to every question. And there was nothing to drag out of me since my conscience is clean before God and people. Then they put my arms behind my back, handcuffed me, pulled my legs out into the splits position; another person pressed on my back, a third held the handcuffs and obviously all that was together with blows”.
Another Tryzub member, Anatoly Onufrychuk says that he was beaten around the kidneys and stomach so as to not leave bruises, and held in a cell at minus 20, and that he and his cellmates burned sheets to get warm.
Vasyl Abramiv who also took part in damaging the monument says that he went to the Zaporizhya SBU himself, but that didn’t save him from torture. He says that he was beaten, held in terrible conditions, but that it was then a bit better in the SIZO.
Six members of Tryzub recall that they were taken by chartered planes from Lviv to Zaporizhya with each being guarded by several Berkut Special Force officers.
According to Andriy Parubiy, a National Deputy from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence who acted as guarantor, the fact that such resources were expended on the case indicates its commissioned and political natures.
“Where do they get the money for a chartered flight to carry those suspected of damaging a monument? And then it turned out that the bust of Stalin was not a monument (as confirmed by the Mayor of Zaporizhya Oleksandr Sin), and the lads were accused of hooliganism, then of damaging private property. And the members of the Communist Party gave an inflated handwritten estimate of the cost so that it would be enough to get them imprisoned”, Parubiy said.
National Deputies and several organizations have approached the Prosecutor over the alleged torture, however a spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office, V. Boichenko, asserts that the checks found no cases of torture or human rights abuse by the police or SBU.
Anti-torture Programme Coordinator for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Andriy Didenko, however, notes that Ukraine is seeing an unprecedented surge in politically motivated criminal cases. He believes that in this situation the Prosecutor’s Office and other State bodies are not capable of safeguarding political prisoners from torture.
After the destruction of the bust (on 31 December, whereas the young men are accused of a prior event when the bust to the dictator was beheaded – translator), around 30 members of Tryzub were detained and held in custody. Most were forced charged with terrorism and with organizing the explosion that destroyed the bust. Government officials alleged that when detained weapons were found, as well as explosives and walkie-talkies. On 13 April nine young men (one not a member of Tryzub and detained because he let them spend the night at his place) were released on Deputies guarantee.
Human rights groups and members of the opposition are calling on the public to rally around and defend each political prisoner regardless of the group they represent since otherwise, they believe, the same fate could await any of us.
Slightly abridged from the article at Radio Svoboda