Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 01:01 UK

Moldova police face brutality allegations

The BBC has seen evidence of widespread police brutality in Moldova, following the disputed parliamentary election on 5 April. The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse has been hearing people's stories.

Friends covering the grave of Eugen Tapu
Eugen Tapu's family believe he died as a result of police brutality

The Communist authorities made hundreds of arrests after protestors stormed public buildings in the capital Chisinau, demonstrating against what they said were rigged results.

Those who have been released tell of severe beatings in custody, and there are reports that three may have died as a result of the abuse.

At a graveside in the town of Soroca in northern Moldova, men are shovelling freshly dug earth on top of a coffin. Women are holding flowers.

Occasionally one of the mourners approaches another and breaks of a piece of bread from a circular loaf.

It is Orthodox Easter weekend, but these mourners are here to bury Eugen Tapu. His family believe he died as a result of police brutality.

"I don't believe what the police told us," Eugen's father says later at the wake, walking between the tables with a fixed expression, pouring wine for the mourners.

"They killed him, that's for sure, and they must answer for what they've done."

No marks

The police say they found the decomposing body of Eugen Tapu on 15 April, hanging from his bootlaces in the attic of a building in the capital.

Iurie Craciuneac's beaten legs
Opposition activist Iurie Craciuneac says he was beaten in police custody

But Eugen's family say they could find no marks on his neck.

The Moldovan government strongly denies any involvement in Eugen's death, or in the deaths of two other young men, Valeriu Boboc, and Ion Tabuleac.

Both were found dead in the days after the protests, and media reports have attributed their deaths to injuries suffered at the hands of the police.

The allegations are hard to prove - so far no witnesses have claimed to have seen any of the three men in police custody, and the authorities deny detaining them.

But, human rights groups say that the kinds of injuries found on their bodies are similar to those suffered by the many others who were beaten during police detention.

Strip naked

At the other end of Moldova, in the southern town of Kahul, Ion Butmalai is lying in a hospital bed. He looks weak.

Ion Butmalai in hospital bed with son Ion
Ion Butmalai says he was beaten, kicked and hit with truncheons

On the night of 7 April, Mr Butmalai was on his way back to Kahul from Chisinau when his minibus was stopped by police.

Everyone on the bus was arrested and taken to a police station in the capital.

"We were made to stand with our hands up facing a wall," he says. "They beat us with truncheons, and with their fists, and kicked us.

"They also hit us with rifles, on different parts of our bodies, in the head, in the back, in the legs."

After three or four hours outside in the cold, he says they were taken into the building itself and forced to strip naked. Then the beatings started again.

"We were beaten until some of us were covered in blood, falling over. After that we were taken to the cells, 15 or 16 people to a cell."

No evidence

On condition of anonymity, a doctor at the hospital said that Mr Butmalai's injuries are consistent with his story.

Deputy Minister of the Interior Valentin Zubik
If it is proven that any members of the police force used unjustified force on any of the detainees... they will be held responsible
Valentin Zubik
Deputy minister

This story is not unique. Iurie Craciuneac, an opposition activist, was arrested at the same time.

More than 10 days after the beatings, the bruises on his upper legs are still visible.

But a photo, taken after his release on 11 April, shows the real extent of his injuries, his thighs covered in purple and yellow patches.

The Moldovan police are under the direct control of the ministry of the interior.

Valentin Zubik, the deputy interior minister, told the BBC he has no evidence to prove that the any of the roughly three hundred people officially detained by the authorities, were beaten while in police custody.

Nevertheless, he says the Moldovan Prosecutor's Office is investigating the allegations.

"If it is proven that any members of the police force used unjustified force on any of the detainees - let alone torture or other means - then depending on the seriousness of the crime, they will be held responsible - whether that means disciplinary action or a criminal investigation."

Still in detention

But the executive director of Amnesty International Moldova, Evghenii Golosceapov, does not believe the minister's denials.

Flowers at Eugen Tapu's grave
The brutality of the police response to the violence has shocked many

"I consider that these denials are not credible," he told us in the capital, Chisinau.

"All people who were interviewed by human rights defenders, including Amnesty International, are confirming that they were beaten, and they confirm that all the people they have seen in detention were beaten as well."

More than 100 of those who were arrested in the aftermath of the protests have been released in the past few days.

But Amnesty International believes that many more are still in detention.

Over the Easter weekend just gone, Chisinau's central square has been quiet.

But the scars of 7 April are still visible: windows in the parliament building are still shattered, still blackened by smoke.

The violence of those protests took the authorities by surprise. But the brutality of the response has shocked many others.

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