Kharkiv prison torture victim awarded damages in Strasbourg


Ukraine has been ordered to pay former prisoner Sergey Savenko  7 thousand EUR over torture and ill-treatment at the Temnivka no. 100 Prison (Kharkiv Region).  Savenko was represented at the European Court of Human Rights by Arkady Bushchenko, advocate and now the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

Savenko is 36 and shudders when he recalls his time in prison. He says it was customary for prisoners to be made to pass through a “corridor” of officers in helmets and with sticks, with each beating them. 

In July 2008 he was placed in a disciplinary cell together with another prison, both for disciplinary offences.  Savenko says that the first deputy governor of the prison demanded that he give information about alleged unlawful activities on the part of other prisoners. He refused and the deputy governor pulled his hands behind his back, pushed him onto a mattress and put a plastic bag over his head. When he chewed a hole in the bag, the deputy governor threw several mattresses on top of him and, presumably, jumped on them. Savenko lost consciousness.  When he came to, he noticed injuries on his forearms caused by the handcuffs.

This was effectively the only proof of the torture he had been subjected to. 

The court judgment makes shocking reading, with it clear how the prison forced Savenko to assert that he had inflicted the injuries on himself, that he had made up his allegations, etc.

This was enough for the prosecutor to find the original allegations unsubstantiated, however Savenko managed to get a letter to his lawyer stating that he had made these statements under pressure.

Bushchenko challenged the Prosecutor’s decision arguing that Savenko had retracted his compliant involuntarily and that the evidence supporting the decision was unreliable.

This was rejected first by the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office then in the Kyivskyy District Court of Kharkiv.

Bushchenko succeeded in getting an independent forensic examination.  This found that Savenko’s injuries could not have been inflicted by yarn or rope; there was no indication that salt had been applied to the affected areas of skin; and the applicant’s initial statements that the injuries had been caused by metal handcuffs corresponded to the objective medical information.

This did not help in domestic courts, and the case ended up in Strasbourg.

ECHR found violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of torture) both in that torture had been applied, and because the allegations of torture had not received proper investigation.

Human rights workers are not optimistic that those responsible will be punished. Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Director told journalists that he does not know of a single case where as the result of an ECHR judgment the public prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation and investigated the case again. 

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