By Ruzanna Khachatrian
An Armenian opposition activist who had one of his testicles removed as a result of an apparently brutal police interrogation is to go on trial soon and face at least five years in prison for resisting one of his interrogators.
Prosecutors in Yerevan confirmed on Friday that they have finished their criminal investigation into what they see as an assault on a “state official performing their duties.” An official from the city’s Erebuni district told RFE/RL that the case will be sent to a court after it is examined by Grisha Virabian, a member of the opposition People’s Party from a village near southern town of Artashat.
Virabian underwent urgent surgery on April 24 after spending a night in agonizing pain in local police custody. He was placed there after several hours of questioning, ostensibly on suspicion of illegal possession of weapons which were never found in his house.
Virabian says he was handcuffed while law-enforcement officers led by the deputy chief of the Artashat police, Hovannes Movsisian, kicked him in the crotch and sides. He says the interrogation took the sadistic form after he hit Movsisian with a mobile phone recharging device in response to the latter’s physical and verbal abuse.
The police, however, claim that the 44-year-old father of two himself went on a rampage at their Artashat headquarters, smashing furniture and attacking Movsisian. The ensued inquiry by the Erebuni prosecutors confirmed this version of events, identifying Virabian as the culprit. In the meantime, Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General refused to investigate his accounts of torture.
Virabian, who actively participated in the Armenian opposition’s unsuccessful spring campaign for regime change, claimed on Friday that President Robert Kocharian has personally sanctioned his prosecution in a bid to discourage Armenians from challenging his rule.
“The case is political,” he told RFE/RL. “It wasn’t the result of illegalities committed by the investigators. My fate is decided at the level of the president and the prosecutor-general of the republic.”
But Virabian, whose harsh treatment by the police has been condemned by the opposition and human rights groups, again struck a defiant note, pledging to “fight to the end” and, if necessary, take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. “I will not stop fighting until my demands are met and the policemen get a deserved punishment,” he said.
Six other opposition activists have already been jailed for between 9 and 18 months for their participation in the campaign of opposition protests.
Police brutality is believed to be commonplace in Armenia, with law-enforcement officers often using force to extract desired testimony from criminal suspects. In the most recent international report highlighting the problem, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), a Council of Europe watchdog, concluded that individuals arrested or interrogated in Armenia run a “significant risk” of torture, humiliation and psychological pressure.
("Haykakan Zhamanak" photo: Grisha Virabian addressing an opposition rally in Yerevan.)