By Ruzanna Stepanian
A court in Yerevan on Friday ordered state prosecutors to restart their criminal investigation into the mysterious death of a young man detained and interrogated by the Armenian police last year.
Levon Gulian, 31, was found dead at the headquarters of the national Police Service’s Directorate General of Criminal Investigations on in May 2007. He was questioned there as a presumed witness of a deadly shooting that took place outside his restaurant in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit district three days earlier.
The police claim that Gulian fell to his death while attempting to escape from a second-floor interrogation room of the police building in downtown Yerevan. Gulian’s relatives, backed by human rights, vehemently dispute the claim, saying that that he was apparently tortured before being thrown out of the window.
A resulting public outcry forced Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General to launch an official inquiry into the circumstances of the extraordinary case. The law-enforcement agency also agreed to an independent examination of Gulian’s body by two European medical experts. Their report submitted to the authorities later in 2007 contained no definitive verdict on the precise cause of Gulian’s death.
A team of investigators representing the Office of the Prosecutor-General finished their inquiry last March, endorsing the police version of the incident. The Gulian family and its lawyers denounced the decision and asked the court to overturn it, portraying it as a further indication of a high-level cover-up. They say the investigators never even considered the family’s theory of the case whereby police interrogators made Gulian fall to his death to hide traces of severe torture.
One of the lawyers, Aram Karakhanian, welcomed the court’s decision to order a fresh probe of the case. “The court effectively agreed with our belief that the investigation was flawed and did not discuss theories suggested by us,” he told RFE/RL.
It was not immediately clear whether the prosecutors will appeal the court ruling or obey it.
Gulian’s death cast a fresh spotlight on the problem of police brutality in Armenia. Local and international watchdogs say the practice remains commonplace.