12:56 Aug. 29, 2016
Human rights watchdogs say the detainees were held incommunicado and suffered tortures
13 people were recently released from a secret detention compound in Kharkiv run by Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Amnesty International said on Monday.
"The release of 13 people is welcome, but simply confirms the need to end and investigate these abuses and deliver justice to the victims," John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said in a statement.
"The grotesque practice of secret detention continues to be denied by the Ukrainian authorities, but the evidence is overwhelming," he added.
The SBU has previously said it has no secret jails:
"The SBU has denied the existence of the secret prison in Kharkiv and the use of the practice of secret detention, both in public and in our private meetings with them," Krasimir Yankov, a Kyiv-based researcher for Amnesty International, told RFE/RL.
The release of 13 persons comes after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch exposed the use of torture and secret detention by both Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine in a joint report "‘You Don't Exist.' Arbitrary Detentions, Enforced Disappearances, and Torture in Eastern Ukraine" published on 21 July.
Before the launch of the report, the two organisations met with the Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoliy Matios and handed him a list of 16 people who were allegedly still being held in Kharkiv. Matios promised to personally oversee the investigation into the practice of secret detention.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have since learned that six persons were released on 25 July and seven more - on 2 August. 12 of those released were on the list of 16 that was provided to the Chief Military Prosecutor.
Representatives of the human rights watchdogs were able to contact seven of the recently released secret prisoners and interviewed five of them. Three of the former secret detainees said they were determined to seek justice, the other two have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against themselves or their families.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the Ukrainian officials to commit to a thorough, independent and effective investigation of these cases and to ensure the safety of those released.
"We urge Kyiv to take immediate steps to secure the release of those still secretly detained and to provide justice – and crucially protection – to those now seeking it," said John Dalhuisen.
According to the organisations, five persons are still being secretly detained at the Kharkiv compound. Two are Russian nationals and two are Ukrainian citizens from Kharkiv. The fifth person allegedly suffers from a mental illness.