By Hovannes Shoghikian
President Serzh Sarkisian ordered law-enforcement authorities on Wednesday to investigate allegations that at least two of the opposition members imprisoned in connection with Armenia’s post-election violence were ill-treated in jail this week.
One of them, Grigor Voskerchian, claims to have been beaten up in Yerevan’s Nubarashen on Tuesday shortly before a second court hearing in the controversial trial of seven prominent opposition figures accused of attempting to bring down the government following the February 19 presidential elections. Voskerchian, who actively participated in opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign, is one of those defendants.
The Armenian Justice Ministry, which oversees Nubarashen and other prisons across the country, strongly denies the accusations.
Nonetheless, Sarkisian instructed Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian to launch an “internal investigation.” His office said the order was issued “as a result” of Sarkisian’s meeting on Wednesday with Armen Harutiunian, the state human rights ombudsman. It said Harutiunian agreed to take part in the probe launched by Danielian later in the day.
Harutiunian has expressed serious concern at the torture allegations, having his aides visit Nubarashen and meet with Voskerchian and another opposition detainee, Gevorg Manukian, late on Tuesday. A statement by the ombudsman’s office said Voskerchian insisted that he was punched and kicked by the commander of a Justice Ministry squad inspecting Nubarashen because of his political affiliation and activities. The oppositionists claimed that the incident occurred during searches conducted in his and other inmates’ prison cells, the statement said.
Voskerchian’s lawyer, Stepan Voskanian, told journalists that his client was moved to another Nubarashen cell and is being kept there “in worse conditions” after talking to the ombudsman’s representatives. Voskanian demanded that law-enforcement bodies launch criminal proceedings in connection with the alleged beatings.
The allegations were also picked up by Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by Ter-Petrosian. The Armenian National Congress demanded on Wednesday Danielian’s sacking and the release of all “political prisoners.”
Meanwhile, a Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prisons on Wednesday again rejected the opposition claims as “slander.” According to its version of events, the department’s “rapid reaction” unit met with fierce resistance from some Nubarashen inmates as it conducted regular searches in the prison on Tuesday. A department spokesman, Arsen Babayan, said the unit had to use force and “special means” against those prisoners that seriously injured its commander. Voskerchian was not among those prisoners, he said.