An Armenian police officer prosecuted for allegedly ill-treating a man who died in police custody in April has pleaded not guilty to the accusation and feels that he was made a scapegoat by investigators, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Major Ashot Harutiunian, the chief of criminal investigations at the police department of Charentsavan, a small town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, was arrested and charged in late April with using force to extract a confession from Vahan Khalafian.
Khalafian, 24 was among several local residents detained on suspicion of theft. He died several hours later in still unclear circumstances. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has investigated the suspicious death, says he committed suicide after enduring torture at the hands of Harutiunian and three other officers also facing prosecution.
Khalafian’s relatives, backed by some human rights activists, believe, however, that the young man was tortured to death and that the SIS has failed to hold accountable all local police officials responsible for his brutal treatment. The victim’s uncle, Hmayak Khalafian, on Thursday again pointed the finger at Samvel Tonoyan, the deputy chief of the Charentsavan police.
Unlike his boss, Norik Heboyan, Tonoyan has not been sacked or subjected to disciplinary action. According to some media reports, Khalafian was found dead shortly after Tonoyan arrived at the Charentsavan police station on April 13.
According to Harutiunian’s lawyer, Seda Safarian, the arrested policeman rejects the accusations leveled against him under an Armenian Criminal Code article relating to abuse of power that results in “severe consequences.” Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Safarian indicated that he considers himself a police scapegoat.
The lawyer insisted that both the Charentsavan police chief and his deputy must have sanctioned all police actions on that day. “The whole police department was involved in the operation,” she said, describing the SIS investigation as “incomplete and not objective.”