Police in the Dominican Republic have been responsible for an alarming number of killings and torture over a five-year period, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
The report, titled "Shut up if you don't want to be killed," documents alleged human rights violations and calls for the police department to thoroughly investigate them.
"Authorities must ensure those responsible for the killings and torture face justice," said Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International director for the Dominican Republic.
Police spokesman Maximo Baez said the department does prosecute officers accused of crimes including murder and that 156 officers have been charged since August 2010.
He said police try to minimize side effects while fighting crime, but added that they face "a very aggressive delinquency."
Last week, Police Chief Jose Armando Polanco said he would not meet with Amnesty delegates unless they mentioned in the report that 55 police officers and soldiers were killed while on duty and another 170 injured. He said at the time that he would not comment further on the report.
At least 154 people were reported killed by police from January to July of this year, compared with 125 people in the same period last year, according to the Dominican Republic's Office of the Prosecutor General.
A total of 260 people were killed by police last year, compared with 346 killed in 2009. Local human rights groups say police also have injured hundreds of others.
Prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso said that between 2008 and 2011, he filed 176 cases in which police officers and soldiers were accused of murder and other crimes. He did not describe the outcome of those cases.
Human rights activists believe that one of the victims is Juan Almonte Herreras, a 51-year-old father of three who served as secretary-general of the Dominican Commission of Human Rights, said Esteban Reyes, the commission's president in Puerto Rico.
"This is one of the most notorious cases," he said.
Based on its own investigation, the commission concluded that police in September 2009 had kidnapped Almonte, tortured him and later set his body on fire. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights accused the Dominican government of conducting a lax investigation.
In August, the government issued a brief statement saying the investigation was ongoing.
Almonte's wife, who fled to the U.S., said in a phone interview that she will keep pursuing answers despite numerous threats against her family.
"We have been looking for answers for two years," Ana Montilla said. "We know that we are fighting the state. ... I do not believe in Dominican justice."
Police have said the majority of killings occurred during an exchange of gunfire, but forensic tests show otherwise, said Pedro Santiago, Amnesty's director in Puerto Rico.
In its report, Amnesty claims police beat and denied food and water to prisoners, put plastic bags over their heads or hanged them by their handcuffs from bars or nails in the wall. The report also claims police routinely round up hundreds of young men on nights and weekends and shake them down for bribes.
Santiago said the organization spent nearly two years investigating human rights allegations and conducting hundreds of interviews, including with the families of 20 men killed by police and four men who survived a police shooting.
The police department still has not provided information on how many of its 30,000 officers are under investigation or have been charged with human rights violations, Santiago said. He also claimed that the police department has no guidelines for investigating allegations of human rights abuses.
The report notes that the department has fought internal corruption and dismissed roughly 12,000 officers from 2007 to 2010. It also stated that low salaries has led to widespread corruption, with 45 percent of the department earning about $140 a month.
Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez contributed from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.