|Police in the Dominican Republic have been seizing people off the streets and torturing them by choking them with onions to obtain information about crimes, a human rights group alleged Wednesday.
The National Commission on Human Rights has documented dozens of cases in which police forced onions into people's mouths to make the victims feel as if they were asphyxiating, said Joselin Melo, the organization's vice president. Some people also had onions stuffed into their rectums, she charged.
While allegations of torture involving suspects and inmates has long been documented in the Caribbean country, she said it was the first time the commission had heard about onions being used as weapons.
"They have specialized in this technique," Melo said. "It appears that the onion has given them results."
She said police also have hit people with baseball bats and other weapons and mistreated their genitals.
The torture has been inflicted on people taken without arrest warrants or detention orders but whom police believe might know about a crime or be involved in it, Melo said.
She said the organization planned to file complaints soon on behalf of some victims.
Police spokesman Nelson Rosario said authorities would investigate the charges and take appropriate measures if they uncovered any misconduct.
"We have always urged anyone who knows of an illegal act involving police to come forward," Rosario said at a news conference.
He did not return repeated messages for further comment.
The National Commission of Human Rights said it documented 70 cases of alleged torture so far this year, compared to 300 for all of 2008. It said the cases involving onions have occurred at the police station in Santo Domingo and five other detention centers.
The Dominican Committee of Human Rights also is planning to file complaints after investigating torture allegations at the country's biggest prison, committee president Virgilio Almanzar said.
He charged that officials tortured seven inmates in La Victoria by beating them and even breaking one man's arm. Authorities also have demanded up to $140 from inmates' relatives to transfer them out of isolation cells, Almanzar said.
Most of those targeted in the prison are Haitian, he said.
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has a poor record in respecting human rights, the U.S. Department of State has said. While senior police officials have been following the law, a lack of supervision and training means that suspects and prisoners are tortured, mostly through beatings, the agency says.
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press