KIEV, Ukraine — Oleksandr Popov, an auto mechanic from a Ukrainian provincial city, says police beat, choked and shocked him with electricity for hours, trying to extract a confession out of him. After they realized he was not the man they were looking for, they simply released him, covered with bruises and barely able to stand. When Popov complained, prosecutors refused to press charges.
In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International said Popov's story is typical for Ukraine, saying rampant beatings and torture at the hands of police go unpunished. The London-based human rights watchdog urged the government to set up an independent body to investigate the crimes and bring those responsible to justice.
Amnesty said that out of some 115,000 complaints filed last year over police treatment, only 1,750 – about 1.5 percent – were investigated and only 320 criminal cases were filed against about 440 police officers.
It added that since prosecutors work in tandem with the police on daily cases, they cannot be trusted to objectively investigate cases of police abuse and they regularly cover up the crimes of their police colleagues. An independent body with broad powers and total independence from the police and prosecutors force is needed to oversee police actions, Amnesty said.
"Abuse by officials can only be prevented when they know they will be held to account for their actions and risk disciplinary or criminal punishment if they are found to be responsible for torture or other ill treatment," said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty's deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia.
Interior Ministry spokesman Volodymyr Polishchuk questioned the figures, saying police abuse constituted just a small fraction of them and the rest were routine incidents, like a failure to respond to a complaint about noisy neighbors. Polishchuk said the ministry is working to solve the problem and is planning to introduce an ethics committee to fight police abuse.
Popov, 33, told The Associated Press he had just dropped off his son at school one day in October when he was snatched off the street by a group of plainclothes officers and driven to a forest. There, they handcuffed him, put two plastic bags over his head and taped electrical wire to his ankles. For hours on end they punched and electrocuted him, asking him questions about a murder that took place three years earlier in a nearby town.
"I lost consciousness repeatedly, they gave me electric shocks, I was suffocating," Popov said. "I told them: honestly, let me just die here."
Hours later, he was driven to a police station where he was questioned and told the police that on the day of the murder he was taking care of his newborn son. After he was released, a doctor at a hospital documented multiple bruises all over his body. Only after numerous complaints and heavy press coverage did prosecutors open a case into abuse of office, but they later closed it, saying there was not enough evidence against the police officers involved. Police admit to questioning Popov, but deny any torture or other wrongdoing.
"We believe the Ukrainian people will no longer tolerate a society in which you can be abducted while taking your child to school, bound, taped, smothered in plastic bags and electrocuted for hours simply because the police didn't check their facts," said Max Tucker, an Amnesty campaigner on South Caucasus and Ukraine.