First Amnesty International letter-writing marathon with a Ukrainian prisoner

The Ukrainian Section of Amnesty International will be holding a letter-writing marathon with letters written in support of people from different countries whose rights are being violated.

This year the marathon will take place in 25 cities with people writing letters in support of 5 prisoners, one of them for the first time a Ukrainian prisoner. This is Yakiv Strogan whose case we have followed here.

On 16 August 2010, one day after an argument and fight between Yakov Strogan and a neighbour, police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv arrived at Strogan’s flat.  Strogan was taken first to a police unit, and then to the forest where he was beaten and subjected to various forms of torture, including the use of electric shocks and having ammonia poured down his nose and mouth. He was then kept incarcerated for four days while the officers tried to extort 10 thousand dollars from his wife. He was only released after he promised to try to find the money.

From then on and consistently up till his arrest in December, Yakov Strogan spoke publicly of his ordeal and endeavoured to get a criminal investigation initiated. He was supported by KHPG whose lawyers are adamant that some of the details he describes could not have been invented. He also underwent a forensic examination which found bodily injuries of medium severity. Despite this, the Prosecutor’s Office found no grounds for beginning a criminal investigation.
Just over a week after repeating his allegations at parliamentary hearings on 1 December, Yakov Strogan was detained by officers from the same Kievsky District Police Station. Almost four months after a dispute which Strogan says was minor, and where the neighbour only hurt himself because he fell on broken glass, Yakov Strogan was arrested and accused of attempted murder. ATN reports that the wife of the alleged victim, Tatyana Marchenko cannot remember what Strogan was wearing but is sure that he was armed with a knife which he used against her husband. Profound scepticism on this score is surely substantiated by lack of any mention of a knife or other object in the original medical documents, not to mention the fact that the knife when “found” proved to have blood on it, but no fingerprints.
Despite the prolonged time period before the murder charges were laid, the public allegations preceding them, as well as the shocking state Strogan was in when brought to court on 11 December after a night held in custody by his alleged torturers, the judge saw no need to ask questions and remanded Yakov Strogan in custody. Judge Muratova was this year one of the recipients of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Thistle of the Year for worst human rights offences specifically over this case.

The letters in defence of Yakiv Strogan will be sent to the Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, calling on him to ensure a thorough investigation into Strogan’s allegations of torture, provide medical care and allow him visits from his family.

Mr Strogan’s wife Anna hopes that the campaign will help.  She says that they have kept going thanks to the help of the human rights group,  “When the press helps, letters from such organizations, of course it’s easier to fight this body”.

She explains that her husband is presently in the SIZO [detention centre] and is waiting for the results of the third forensic medical assessment which is for unknown reasons delayed, with this preventing continuation of the court hearings.

Letters will also be written demanding proper investigation into the murder in Chechnya of Russian human rights defender Natalya Estemirova.

The Director of the AI Ukrainian Section Tetyana Mazur explains that such letters which anybody can write have moral, rather than legal, force. “When we write such appeals, we put pressure on the governments. We demonstrate that first of all we are aware of the human rights violations. And secondly we demand justice and observance of human rights”. In two of the seven cases last year, two were successful.

Tamara Marchenko, Lecturer in Sociology at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, agrees that letters en masse can have impact on the authorities.

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