By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Armenian human rights group joined on Tuesday the family of a young man who died in police custody last month in alleging that he was brutally tortured by police interrogators.
Levon Gulian was found dead on May 12 at the headquarters of the Armenian Police Service’s Directorate General of Criminal Investigations. He was questioned there as a presumed witness of a deadly shooting that took place outside his restaurant in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit district on May 9.
The police claim that he fell to his death while attempting to escape from a second-floor interrogation room of the police building in downtown Yerevan. Gulian’s relatives reject this, saying that that the 31-year-old father of two was tortured to death before being thrown out of the window.
The high-profile case has attracted a strong public resonance, forcing the chief of the Armenian police, Hayk Harutiunian, to order an internal investigation. The Office of the Prosecutor-General, for its part, opened a separate criminal case in connection with the incident. The law-enforcement authorities also agreed to an independent examination of Gulian’s body by two European medical experts.
“I officially state that Levon Gulian was murdered,” charged Mikael Danielian, chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Association (AHA).
Ruben Martirosian, a forensic expert who works for the AHA, echoed the allegation. “Over the past ten years I have had to take part in 300-350 autopsies, including autopsies on tortured bodies,” he said. “To be honest, I have not come across a body tortured to such an extent before.”
“So I will declare for certain that what happened was a murder preceded by torture,” added Martirosian. He admitted that he arrived at such a conclusion after seeing only a photograph of the corpse.
The accusations came amid continuing uncertainty surrounding the findings of a German and Danish medics that examined Gulian’s body in a Yerevan mortuary in late May. The two men reportedly sent their report to the Gulian family and Armenian prosecutors earlier this month. The latter assert that the European experts essentially endorsed the official version of events.
Excerpts from that report published by two Armenian newspapers on Tuesday contained no definitive verdict on the precise cause of Gulian’s death, something which was emphasized by the dead man’s wife, Jemma Hakobian.
“We have no concrete answers,” she told a joint news conference with Danielian and Martirosian. “The report says that before his death Levon suffered violent injures that left traces on his body.”
Hakobian, who wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of her late husband, also said that the family will publicize the full text of the extensive report after it is translated to Armenian.