By Karine Kalantarian
The European Court of Human Rights has declared illegal and unfair the imprisonment of an Armenian soldier who had been tortured into confessing to a mysterious 1998 murder of a fellow army conscript.
Misha Harutiunian, now 27, was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2001 by an Armenian court despite proving that his confession was extracted under severe duress. He was released on parole in late 2002.
Harutiunian appealed to the European Court in November 2003 after his repeated demands for acquittal were dismissed by Armenian courts.
In its second-ever ruling on an Armenia-related case announced late Thursday, the Strasbourg-based tribunal met most of his demands. It emphasized the fact that military police officers who interrogated Harutiunian and two other soldiers were subsequently fired and prosecuted for torture.
“The European Court of Human Rights noted that the applicant and the two witnesses had been coerced into making confessions and that that fact been confirmed by the domestic courts when the police officers concerned were convicted of ill-treatment,” it said in a statement. The statement added that the use of such “evidence” rendered the trial unfair as it violated a key article of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court ordered the Armenian state to pay the young man, who now resides in Moscow, 4,000 euros ($5,200) in “non-pecuniary” damages.
Harutiunian’s lawyer, Hayk Alumian, told RFE/RL that he will use the verdict to again seek his client’s full acquittal by an Armenian court and as much as $100,000 worth of financial compensation for “physical damage” suffered by Harutiunian.
Harutiunian and the two other soldiers were arrested several months after another soldier serving in their military unit deployed on the border with Azerbaijan was found dead in June 1998. He was initially believed to have been shot by an Azerbaijani sniper. However, military police investigators subsequently abandoned this theory and blamed the murder on Harutiunian.
According to Alumian, the two soldiers gave incriminating testimony against his client after being brutally tortured by investigators. “Can you imagine that they had their hand nails squeezed by pliers?” he told RFE/RL.
Alumian claimed that the same form of torture was then used against Harutiunian, forcing the latter to incriminate himself. “Misha Harutiunian had no lawyer at the time,” the attorney said. “When I took over the case a month later, all of his ten fingers were black. They were not only squeezed by pliers. When you read what was done to him you will be shocked.”
The European Court ruling is a further blow to the credibility and moral authority of Armenia’s military prosecutors, who are still reeling from the de facto acquittal by an appeals court last December of three other soldiers jailed on similar murder charges. The case against the now demobilized soldiers was likewise based on a “confession” made but subsequently retracted by one of them. The young man, Razmik Sargsian, insists that it was extracted by force.