Human rights groups condemn excessive force by police against pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine

Human rights advocates are condemning the excessive force and arbitrary arrests by Ukrainian riot police against peaceful demonstrators in Kiev.

Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in Maidan – Independent Square – in Kiev to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision on Nov. 21st to suspend negotiations on the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, which is considered an important step to establish closer economic and political ties with the EU. The protestors have been calling on Yanukovych, who favors closer relations with Russia, to resign.

By most accounts, the first week of the protests proceeded peacefully. However, violence broke out when riot police – known as “Berkut” – were brought in to break up the mass rallies in Maidan on Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st.

Human Rights Watch reported that riot police attacked “people who were not using violence, including journalists and the elderly”, injuring dozens of people, some suffering serious concussions.

“Ukraine is going through serious civil unrest,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “No matter how difficult the situation becomes, police shouldn’t be beating people who pose no threat.”

HRW’s report cited videos recorded by witnesses on Nov. 30th that showed “riot police moving in on the protestors, striking them with batons, and kicking and hitting people who fell…And riot police chasing and grabbing people on adjacent streets and hitting those who had already fallen to the ground.”

Another altercation with riot police followed on Dec. 1st near the presidential administration building on Bankova Street. Protestors had commandeered a bulldozer and tried to break through the police chain surrounding the building. Police responded by using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds, and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that police “beat many people, including some who were not behaving violently or who were trying run away from the clashes to adjacent streets.

A 33-year-old woman, who joined the peaceful protest near Bankova Street with her parents and 27-year-old brother, described how the riot police ran after people “with their batons raised” and “hitting everyone in sight.” Her 54-year-old mother was hospitalized with a concussion, broken nose, bruises on her face, and a serious eye injury after being beaten by police. Her 60-year-old father suffered a concussion after being struck in the head by police.

“I’ve never seen such brutality,” the woman told Human Rights Watch.

Nine protestors were arrested in the Bankova Street incident; seven of the detained protestors suffered such serious injuries – “ranging from broken ribs and a detached retina to concussion” –  at the hands of police that they required hospitalization, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty International identified the nine individuals arrested as: Yaroslav Pritulenko, Yuriy Bolotov, Gennadiy Cherevko, Mykola Lazarevskiy, Oleksandr Ostashchenko, Sergiy Nuzhnenko, Valery Garagutz, Vladyslav Zagorovko and Yegor Previr.

Valery Garagutz is a journalist from Dnipropetrovsk, who was covering the Bankova Street incident for the newspaper Litsa; Garagutz was reportedly beaten by police as he was trying to help some wounded protestors.

“These nine people may have been indiscriminately detained and placed in custody in violation of their right to a fair trial and their right to freedom of assembly,” according to Amnesty International, which suggested that the arrests were “approved by judges in flawed court proceedings.”

Amnesty International is urging the public to write to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General to “review the decision to detain the nine men”, to ensure that they receive medical attention for their injuries, and that allegations of excessive use of force by police are investigated.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke to Yanukovych on the phone on Sunday and urged him to “show restraint in the face of these recent developments, to not use force against the people that are demonstrating peacefully, to respect fully the freedoms that are so important for all of us in Europe.”

Barroso asked Yanukovych to meet and work with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in Kiev this week to “bring some solutions to the very tense situation”.

The Maidan demonstrations are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution in 2004 and 2005. Yanukovych was initially declared the victor in the 2004 presidential election, which was marred by widespread irregular ballot practices, including voter intimidation and fraud. Mass demonstrations were held in Maidan to protest the voting irregularities, which prompted an unprecedented third-round run-off vote between Yanukovych and his opponent, Viktor Yuschenko, which Yuschenko handily won.

However, Yuschenko, who survived an attempted assassination by dioxin poisoning, was not able to sustain a stable government with fellow Orange Revolution leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. The near-constant infighting resulted in shifting political alliances between Yuschenko, Tymoshenko, and Yanukovych between 2006 and 2009. Yanukovych was elected President in January 2010, and his administration has brought corruption charges against Tymoshenko, who remains jailed while awaiting trial. Tymoshenko said the charges brought against her are politically motivated and has gone on hunger strikes to protest her confinement and treatment.


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One Comment on “Human rights groups condemn excessive force by police against pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine

  1. Pingback: Police crack down on demonstrators in Ukraine, EU & US condemn excessive force | What The Folly?!

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