Police Ill-treatment of Romani Suspect

13 November 2006

Research conducted during an ERRC field mission to Ukraine in July 2006 revealed extreme abuse being perpetrated against Roma by state actors in the central Ukrainian town of Dniprodzerzhinsk. The Novomoskovsk- based Romani organisation Vatra and attorney Mr Vassily Pozdniakov told the ERRC that, at the end of April 2006, S.M., an 18-yearold Romani man, was arrested as a suspect in the rape and murder of a teenage girl, beaten repeatedly by police and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. S.M. has been in detention ever since.

According to Vatra, on 30 April 2006, the dead body of the girl was found in a house near a construction site in Dniprodzerzhinsk. The girl had been raped and suffered fatal head injuries some time during the previous evening. On the afternoon of April 30, local police arrested 18-year-old S.M., a Romani man, for suspected involvement in the rape and killing. Several days later, the police produced a confession signed by S.M. declaring responsibility for both the rape and the murder. S.M. was then charged with rape and murder and placed in preliminary detention.

About a month after the girl was found dead, the Novomoskovsk- based Romani organisation Vatra learned of the case and hired a lawyer, Mr Pozdniakov. During an interview with the ERRC on 25 July 2006, Mr Pozdniakov stated that after meeting with S.M, he was certain that S.M. was innocent and that his basic human rights had been seriously violated during his time in police custody. According to Mr Pozdniakov, S.M. informed him during their meeting that he had known the victim personally and had introduced her to another person, an older man with a previous criminal record, who raped and murdered her later that evening. Shortly after introducing the two, the man reportedly told S.M. to leave so that he could speak to the girl alone. A few moments after he left, S.M. heard the girl scream and rushed back to see the man raping her. S.M. informed Mr Pozdniakov that the tried to intervene but the older man beat him with a brick and threatened to kill his entire family if he ever told anybody what he had seen. S.M. stated that the man then grabbed the girl and threw her out of the building, where she fell five floors to her death, according to Mr Pozdniakov.

Mr Pozdniakov informed the ERRC that S.M., who is illiterate, claimed that the police arrested him the next day. During detention, S.M. reported that the police beat him severely, suffocated him with plastic bags, stabbed his hands repeatedly with a sharp metal pen and forced him to confess to the crimes. After being charged, S.M. told Mr Pozdniakov, his cell-mates also beat him. Mr Pozdniakov told the ERRC that during their first meeting, S.M. told him he had suffered a broken jaw, a broken hip, damaged eardrums, cracked ribs and approximately 35 stab wounds on his hands caused by a sharp metal pen since the time of his arrest. Mr Pozdniakov immediately arranged to have S.M. transferred to an isolation cell for his own protection, where he had been held until the date of the ERRC meeting. Mr Pozdniakov informed the ERRC that S.M. believed the alleged perpetrator had paid the police approximately 5,000 USD to leave him alone, which resulted in S.M.'s arrest.

On 25 July, the ERRC visited the Dniprodzerzhinsk District Prosecutor, who is in charge of the case. The prosecutor told the ERRC that he believed S.M. to have committed both the rape and the murder and that he believed S.M. to be lying about the alleged police abuse and the forced confession, and to have inflicted his injuries upon himself. S.M.'s cellmates had reportedly testified that S.M. injured himself in the hopes of being transferred to a hospital from which he might be able to later escape. The prosecutor stated that S.M.'s signed confession is genuine and that it is unbelievable that anybody "under any circumstances" would ever admit to a major crime they had never committed. When asked about the older man as a second suspect, the prosecutor informed the ERRC that, according to the police, they were not searching for him because "he had disappeared and it would be impossible to find him". The prosecutor also stated that although it was possible that S.M.'s confession was not "from the heart", all of the evidence supplied by the police nevertheless suggested that the boy is guilty.

Later that week, Mr Pozdniakov informed the ERRC that the Dniprodzerzhinsk District Prosecutor's Office had dropped the rape charge after he successfully challenged the validity of some of the evidence against S.M., though the murder charge was still in effect. The ERRC was also informed that S.M.'s parents had been given permission to visit their son in prison for the first time since his arrest in April. In September, ERRC took over legal representation of S.M. together with Mr Pozdnikov. In mid – September, S.M.'s case was sent to court and a hearing date was forthcoming.



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