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Investigators Say Murder Theory In Police Custody Case ‘Ungrounded’


Armenia -- Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old man who died in police custody on 13 April 2010, photo undated.

Armenia -- Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old man who died in police custody on 13 April 2010, photo undated.

A law-enforcement body investigating the recent suspicious death in police custody has largely endorsed police claims that a young man committed suicide, rather than suffered torture and was subsequently killed while being interrogated, as his relatives and many civil rights activists insist.

Head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS) Andranik Mirzoyan told RFE/RL on Monday that the murder theory in the death of Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old resident of Armenia's central town of Charentsavan, has been considered by the body since the very start of the investigation. But he added: “A detailed inquiry has been conducted, but this version has not been grounded.”

Khalafian and several other young men were detained by the Charentsavan police on April 13 on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million drams ($3,900) worth of goods from a local entrepreneur. He was found dead several hours later.

The Armenian police and their chief Alik Sargsian in particular claimed that Khalafian was not ill-treated during the interrogation and committed suicide. However, the SIS called this version of events into question by arresting two police officers on charges of abusing their powers and driving the young man to commit suicide.

Based on the findings of forensic experts, however, the SIS is leaning towards endorsing the police version of the events according to which Khalafian stabbed himself to death at the police station.

According to Mirzoyan, the SIS investigation is nearing completion and the case could be sent to court already early next month.

“Findings from several examinations have not been received yet, and we will give the final legal estimation before the end of the investigation,” said Mirzoyan, stressing, however, that the findings of forensic experts received so far substantiate “the suicide version.”

Meanwhile, Khalafian’s relatives and human rights activists following the case are convinced that the young man was tortured and killed in the police department and reject the findings of the forensic experts.

And Mirzoyan said that one of the appointed forensic examinations is to determine the mental state in which Khalafian may have been on the day of his death, such as whether he could have harmed himself or not. According to the SIS head, the legal estimation of Khalafian’s actions and not only those of the police officers would depend on the results of this examination.
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