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Group seeks end to Ukraine police abuse

KIEV — Oleksandr Popov, an auto mechanic from a Ukrainian provincial city, says police beat, choked, and shocked him 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.

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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.

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, said he 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 shocked him, asking him questions about a murder that took place three years earlier in a nearby town.

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