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Ukrainian Activists Alarmed Over Alleged Police Brutality

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- Human rights activists in Kharkiv have sent an open letter to President Viktor Yanukovych urging him to intervene in the investigations of two alleged suicides in police custody in the past 10 days, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

A local man died in the hospital after falling from the fourth floor window of the Loziv district police department in Kharkiv. His mother says he was severely beaten by police and later thrown out of the window to cover up traces of abuse.

The police say the man was a drug dealer who was detained as a suspect in a drug-related crime. They say he was intoxicated and jumped out of the window during an interrogation.

Last week, a woman, who was allegedly involved in the theft of a sack of potatoes, allegedly jumped from a third-floor window of the same district police precinct and died later in the hospital.

The activists say police in Ukraine in the past have physically abused or tortured detained suspects, but now "the situation is getting worse, as it looks as though the police were given the green light to do whatever they want."

Arkadiy Bushchenko, one of the authors of the open letter to Yanukovych, told RFE/RL that even if the suspects committed suicide, the police department chief should be sacked for failing to ensure their safety while in custody.

The activists say that in the last 13 months, more than 50 Ukrainians died in police custody and that tens of thousands were mistreated by police in 2010.

The police are becoming a threat to Ukraine's national security, the open letter says, and therefore "we demand swift, lawful, and fair investigations of the brutal actions by police officers.

Read in Ukrainian here