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Human Rights Campaigner Claims Cover-Up In Police Custody Death Probe


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

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

A prominent human rights campaigner looking into the recent suspicious death of a young man in police custody has accused investigators of attempting a cover-up by supporting the suicide theory advanced by the police.

Head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS) Andranik Mirzoyan told RFE/RL on Monday that the completing investigation into the death of Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old resident of Armenia’s central town of Charentsavan, was likely to endorse the police claim that the suspect had committed suicide. The official said the investigation based on the findings of forensic experts was likely to conclude that Khalafian stabbed himself to death at one point while being interrogated at the police station.

Meanwhile, Khalafian’s family and a considerable number of human rights activists in Armenia insist on the deadly torture version.

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 later that day. The Armenian police claimed that Khalafian was not ill-treated during the interrogation and committed suicide. However, initially the SIS called this version of events into question by arresting two police officers on charges of abusing their powers and driving the suspect to commit suicide. Based on the findings of forensic experts, however, the SIS later appeared to be giving more weight to the police version.

Armenia -- Head of the Helsinki Civil Assembly Vanadzor office Artur Sakunts at a press conference, Yerevan, 06May2010
Artur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor-based regional branch of the Armenian Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the SIS has not yet provided answers to a number of important questions that could shed light on the circumstances of Khalafian’s death to show that he was killed.

The human rights campaigner, in particular, called it suspicious that no traces of knife stabbings had been found on the suspect’s clothes, which, he said, showed that Khalafian was naked at the moment of death.

“First there is the question of two stabbings. There is no answer as to which stabbing was first and which was second. No answer is given to the question as to how a person could stab himself twice after he had been subjected to torture of that sort. Another question that hasn’t been answered yet is from where the knife had appeared or who had given it to Vahan Khalafian to kill himself,” said Sakunts.

According to Sakunts, the role of the second interrogator who was present in the room, as testified by Khalafian’s brother, is also unclear.

“In short, the experts ought to have answered the following question – what impact could the traces of violence on Vahan Khalafian’s body could have on his actions?… Whether a person in that condition was capable of making any movement. These are questions that give us more grounds to suspect murder,” said Sakunts.

The human rights campaigner also said that the desire of the SIS to complete the investigation quickly also speaks for its attempt to cover up the case. “It is unheard-of in the practice of Armenia that such crimes be revealed in such a short period of time,” Sakunts said.

Armenia’s Ombudsman also challenges the official version that Khalafian committed suicide after being tortured.
Armenia -- Human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian.


“I don’t think this version is probable. This has already become a pattern – to go to a police station and commit suicide there,” Armen Harutiunian said in an RFE/RL interview on Tuesday.

The state human rights defender promised to give a more detailed assessment of the case after the end of the investigation.

The SIS head told RFE/RL the investigation was nearing completion and the case was likely to be submitted to court already at the beginning of next month.
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