The recently sacked police chief of Armenia’s second city of Gyumri has been charged with badly ill-treating a citizen and risks up to six years in prison if found guilty, law-enforcement authorities said on Friday.
In a written statement, the Special Investigative Service (SIS) said Shirak Shahnazarian will go on trial for an incident that occurred in his office in July.
According to the law-enforcement agency subordinated to state prosecutors, Shahnazarian verbally abused and beat up a Gyumri resident who visited him with an unspecified “complaint.” The resident, identified as G. Varpetian, was then illegally kept in police custody for seven hours before being set free, the statement said without elaboration.
The SIS added that Shahnazarian has been charged under an article of Armenia’s Criminal Code that deals with abuse of power “accompanied by use of violence, weapons or special means.” Such crimes are punishable by between two and six years’ imprisonment.
The SIS did not specify whether the criminal case was the reason why Shahnazarian was dismissed as chief of Gyumri’s police department earlier this month. The case is a rare example of senior law-enforcement sacked and prosecuted for alleged torture.
Mistreatment of criminal suspects has long been widespread in Armenia. The illegal practice, dating back to the Soviet era, is regarded by local and international human rights groups as the most frequent form of rights violation in the country.
The alleged beating occurred shortly before three other, more low-ranking, police officers in Gyumri were convicted of bribery and sentenced to seven years in prison. During their trial, all three men denied collecting a total of 15.6 million drams ($40,000) in kickbacks from traders at a local market.
The announcement of Shahnazarian’s prosecution coincided with a report in the Yerevan newspaper “Haykakan Zhamanak” saying that Yuri Chibukhchian, chief of a national police department in charge of maintaining public order, has been sacked for bribery. The Armenian police did not immediately confirm or refute the report.