Are police edging out of control?
Rights activists are warning that the stage is being set by new Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov for even more excessive police lawlessness and impunity.
Most have heard about how corrupt and brutal Ukraine’s police officers can be. But Kyiv resident Bohdan Khmelnytsky, 36, says he has lived it.
Khmelnytsky tried to commit suicide rather than endure 10 days of torture inflicted, he said, after police arrested him and tried to get him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. After his release, police dismissed his complaints of brutality. So now he’s going to become a lawyer – partly to fight such alleged abuse in the future.
Ukraine’s 300,000-member police force is well-known for two characteristics — their incompetence and their brutality. One feeds the other. Their inability to solve crimes through brilliant detective work and modern evidence-gathering prompts many law enforcers to beat confessions out of hapless subjects.
“The police became more unbridled, you can even tell it by the way they used to drive patrol cars a year ago and how they do it now.”
– Oleg Levytsky, a human rights advocate for the Ukraine Helsinki Group.
Now, human rights activists are warning, the stage is being set by new Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov for even more excessive police lawlessness and impunity.
Oleg Levytsky, a human rights advocate for the Ukraine Helsinki Group, said that the Interior Ministry has closed down public monitoring oversight programs that helped curb the problem during the tenures of two previous ministers.
“The police became more unbridled, you can even tell it by the way they used to drive patrol cars a year ago and how they do it now,” Levytsky said. “I am sure they were given a clear signal from the top – do whatever you want to do, there will be no punishment, just give us good figures [on solved crimes].”
However, Eduard Bagirov, a human rights adviser to Mohyliov, disputes the notion that his boss is unconcerned with police abuses. Bagirov said Ukrainian police have always tortured people, so eliminating such practices entirely can’t be done.
“Minister Mohyliov is totally aware about such a problem as police brutality,” Bagirov said. “And I can assure you, he doesn’t ignore the violation alerts and in a month or so I’ll be able to collect enough cases to illustrate improvement in this area.” According to Bagirov, improved management has meant that police can no longer hide violations and wrongdoers are being punished.
Participants of the protest “No to a police state” near the building of Shevchenkivky police departament in Kyiv on June 10. (Ukrinform)
“We have good examples like Georgia. Georgian policemen are paid good salaries, they improved their efficiency – they would come to the crime scene within minutes. Plus they have strict internal controls.”
– Oleg Levytsky, a human rights advocate for the Ukraine Helsinki Group.
Levytsky, however is not that optimistic. He says that occasional public criticism is not enough, especially when major police crimes remain unsolved. “I am not in a position to tell the ministry how to improve their work,” Levytsky said.
“But we have good examples like Georgia. Georgian policemen are paid good salaries, they improved their efficiency – they would come to the crime scene within minutes. Plus they have strict internal controls.”
In Ukraine, however, even if a person has enough evidence, it’s not easy to prove police brutality.
Crime, no punishment
Khmelnytsky said his claims of violations were dismissed with a formal reply: “The police officers mentioned by you deny use of illegal interrogation methods.”
Khmelnytsky said he was tortured. “They brought me into this small cell, there were five policemen,” he said. “They grabbed me by hands and feet. One of them squeezed my genitals so hard, the pain was so bad that I almost fainted.”
The police officers, whom Khmelnytsky called “the butchers,” tried all kinds of brutal techniques, including putting a plastic bag on his head repeatedly and tightening it around the neck to nearly asphyxiate him. He attempted suicide on the 10th day of his detention, which led to his release. But criminal charges against him still haven’t been lifted.
Volodymyr Polishchuk, a spokesman for Kyiv Police Department, said Khmelnytsky’s accusations are not credible. “This guy you are talking about has criminal records,” Polishchuk said, including suspicion of alleged car theft, the reason for his arrest. “He is trying to make people think that this case against him was fabricated.”
Bringing a police officer to court is not easy. Attorney Oleh Veremiyenko, who’s been defending the rights of police violence victims, says that the prosecutors’ staffers usually have good relations with the police so they usually cover each other. “They work in a bundle – often times prosecutors would ask policemen ‘hey guys, catch us this or another suspect’,” Veremiyenko said.
The case of 20-year-old student, Ihor Indylo, who died in police custody on May 18, is a good example of police brutality left unpunished. At first the police insisted that Indylo fell out of the bed and damaged his head. Later they started insisting that he had received a lethal injury before he was sent to the precinct and deny responsibility for his death.
The Shevchenkivsky district prosecutor’s office in Kyiv instituted legal proceedings on power abuse charges against the police of the same district. But Indylo’s attorneys and friends did not think the case would be properly investigated.
Now the Kyiv city prosecutor’s office overtook the case and ordered additional expertise. President Viktor Yanukovych recently asked Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko to take this case under his personal control.
A victim of alleged police brutality displays cuts and bruises on June 14. (Courtesy)
Still some people have succeeded in pressing their cases of police abuse.
A Kyiv resident, who did not want to be identified, said police on June 14 simply grabbed her and pushed her into their car. She was brought to precinct station on Prorizna Street and thrown to the floor. “One police officer asked me if I had any drugs or a gun on me. Of course I said I didn’t,” she said, to which he replied: “Well, that’s easy to fix.”
Then she described the assault that happened next:
“They twisted my arms, one guy grasped me by the hair and banged my head against a metal safe. Of course I was screaming and they were filming me on their mobile phone cameras. Then one of them said they would rape me if I didn’t calm down.”
Later, she was brought to the Shevchenkivsky district police station on Gertsena Street (the same place where Indylo had died), where doctors were called to attend to her – but not ask any questions about how she sustained the injuries.
She said police filed official charges of disobedience and, within hours, obtained a conviction from a judge who sentenced her to five days in jail. However, a medical examination showed her injuries were too severe for her to serve the prison time – she suffered a brain concussion, multiple injuries and bruises.
The account of the same events recorded by the police is somewhat different, however. Officers saw a couple arguing on the street, the drunk woman behaved aggressively, so they decided to detain her.
“At the station, the woman continued behaving inappropriately. She was cursing and spitting at police officers. All that was filmed with mobile phone cameras. According to the law on police, they had to handcuff her. She was falling on the floor, banging with her head against a metal safe and was imitating fainting.”
“After she had refused to take an alcohol intoxication test, she was brought to the Shevchenkivsky district police department and put in a cell where she continued cursing and beating her head, arms and legs against the wall,” Polishchuk said, citing the police statement. “At 8 p.m., she imitated fainting and the duty officer called an ambulance. The doctor examined her and said there was no reason for hospitalization.”
Kyiv police department say they have video of the woman yelling at police officers, but not injuring herself deliberately.
The woman’s lawyer, however, insisted the police acted illegally and that the court agreed.
“We won the first case at the court of appeals, whose ruling says the police had no reasons to detain her,” Oleksandr Nahorny said. “A few days later, another court ordered the prosecutor general’s office to investigate the case of the police abusing their powers and applying violent actions against her. If the investigation is done properly, the guilty policemen will be brought to court and face criminal charges.”
Read more: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/81805/#ixzz0zOnduTmH
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