By Emil Danielyan in Prague
Torture and ill-treatment of suspects in custody as well as the continuing prosecution of "conscientious objectors" to military service remain the most common forms of human rights abuses in Armenia, Amnesty International said in its annual report released Wednesday. It criticized the authorities for failure to investigate all instance of police brutality "thoroughly and impartially."
"As in previous years, there were persistent allegations that law enforcement officials subjected people to torture and ill-treatment in order to obtain confessions and coerce testimony, and that in some cases the authorities appeared reluctant to conduct prompt and comprehensive investigations, or to initiate proceedings against those alleged to be responsible," the respected London-based group concluded.
The report, which scrutinizes the human rights record of 149 nations during the period January to December 2000, singled out torture allegations made by some suspects in the ongoing criminal inquiry into the 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. One of its sections is devoted to the case of Nairi Badalian, a former journalist who spent six months in jail before being cleared of the charges of involvement in the assault last year. Badalian claims to have been severely beaten by guards in Yerevan's Nubarashen prison during lengthy interrogations.
Amnesty also pointed to the alleged mistreatment of Nairi Hunanian, the man who led the bloody raid on the parliament together with four other gunmen currently on trial on charges of murder, terrorism and an attempted coup d'etat. Hunanian, ending his two-month court testimony, on Tuesday again insisted that investigators had forced him to give false testimony. Military prosecutors in charge of the case have denied the accusation.
Beating in detention is believed to be widespread in Armenia. In November, the UN Committee against Torture urged the authorities in Yerevan to ensure that detainees have immediate access to their lawyer, family members and a doctor of their choice. The committee said the authorities should guarantee regular inspections of all prisons and detention sites in the country.
The Amnesty report further noted that by continuing to imprison male citizens refusing to perform compulsory military service because of their religious beliefs Armenia violates a key condition of its membership of the Council of Europe. "There was no sign during 2000 of Armenia acting in the spirit of its Council of Europe commitments with regard to conscientious objectors to compulsory military service," the human rights group said. At least 16 young men, most of them Jehovah's Witnesses, were reportedly sentenced to various prison terms for "evading military service" last year, according to the group.
Armenia officially committed itself, among other things, to enacting a law on alternative military service within the next three years as it joined the Council last January.