A second, more high-ranking Armenian police officer has been arrested in the ongoing criminal investigation into the suspicious death of a man in police custody, law-enforcement authorities said on Tuesday.
The officer, Ashot Harutiunian, is the head of the criminal investigations unit at the police department of Charentsavan, a small town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS), which is conducting the inquiry, said Harutiunian is suspected of abusing his powers and driving Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old Charentsavan resident, to commit suicide.
Another local policeman, Moris Hayrapetian, was arrested on the same grounds a week ago. He was formally charged under a corresponding article of the Armenian Criminal Code two days later.
The choice of the accusation is an indication that the SIS will accept police claims that Khalafian stabbed himself to death at the Charentsavan police station on April 13 after confessing to committing a theft together with three other young men.
Khalafian’s relatives believe that he was tortured to death by his interrogators. They say a forensic examination of his body exposed ample evidence of his ill-treatment.
The SIS, which is subordinated to state prosecutors, said earlier this month that deadly torture is among the theories of the incident considered by its investigators. “The investigation is continuing, and information about its results will be released later on,” it said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and three Armenian human rights groups expressed on Tuesday “deep concern” at Khalafian’s death and urged the Armenian authorities to conduct a “transparent and effective investigation.” “The circumstances of this death must be investigated and the guilty brought to justice,” they said in a joint statement.
“This is not the first case of a person dying in [Armenian] police custody,” added the signatories. They pointed to the May 2007 death of Levon Gulian, a 31-year-old resident of Yerevan who was questioned at the police Directorate General of Criminal Investigations as a presumed crime witness.
The police claimed 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 groups, vehemently disputed the claim, saying that he was apparently tortured before being thrown out of the window.