By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, said on Thursday that he is receiving growing complaints from citizens claiming to have been intimidated and mistreated by law-enforcement agencies to give false incriminating testimony against arrested opposition members.
“We can’t say whether or not that is true,” he told RFE/RL. “But the fact is that such complaints have increased.”
Harutiunian said he has sent letters to the chiefs of the Armenian police and the Special Investigative Service (SIS) to investigate the claims and, in particular, to look into the case of one man, identified as Gagik Avdalian.
In a letter to the ombudsman, Avdalian claimed that he went into hiding after being tortured to testify against parliament deputy Miasnik Malkhasian and several other oppositionists arrested in connection with the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. He said local courts should therefore not use the testimony as evidence.
Under Armenian law, the police and SIS chiefs have to reply to Harutiunian within 10 days.
Harutiunian’s letter is the latest example of the human rights defender of questioning the legality of the Armenian authorities’ post-election crackdown on the opposition that followed the March 1 unrest. His criticism of the use of lethal force against opposition protesters was rejected by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and other Armenian officials.
Earlier this month, Harutiunian described as illegal SIS chief Andranik Mirzoyan’s March directive to regional prosecutors to round up participants of the opposition rallies in Yerevan, wire-tap their conversations and interrogate their neighbors. Mirzoyan insists that the order was legal and justified.
Harutiunian said he shared his concerns with the visiting president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Lluis Maria de Puig, at a meeting earlier on Thursday. “[De Puig] noted that not everyone in Armenia understands the gravity of the situation,” he said.