Ill-treatment of criminal suspects in custody remains the norm in Armenia despite law-enforcement authorities’ pledges to tackle the illegal practice, a prominent human rights campaigner said on Friday.
Artur Sakunts accused the Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies of refusing to investigate torture allegations reported by his Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly of Armenia and other local human rights groups.
“Law-enforcement bodies, the judicial system, the prosecutors, the Special Investigative Service, the Defense Ministry and, in some cases, psychiatric institutions pay no attention whatsoever to reports of inhuman treatment,” he charged at a news conference. “People in this country are being subjected to total and constant violence, the perpetrators of which remain unpunished.”
Police brutality has long been regarded by domestic and international watchdogs as the most serious and widespread form of human rights violation in Armenia. Law-enforcement officers are believed to routinely beat up suspects to extract confessions.
The problem most recently came under public spotlight in April when a young man in the central town of Charentsavan died at the local police station several hours after being detained on suspicion of involvement in theft. Vahan Khalafian’s relatives believe that he was tortured to death.
After initial strong denials, the police admitted that Khalafian was ill-treated in police custody. Four police officers are currently standing trial on corresponding charges. The police and state prosecutors insist, however, that Khalafian stabbed himself to death after enduring torture at their hands.
Meeting with visiting officials from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in May, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said law-enforcement authorities are now doing more to address the problem. Hovsepian claimed that they look into every instance of injury sustained by a detainee and recorded by prison authorities. Armenian human rights campaigners dismissed these assurances.
Sakunts said on Friday that over the past year he has informed the prosecutors about 14 such cases, reported by suspects’ relatives, and that they have refused to launch criminal proceedings into any of them. Some of those relatives were present at his news conference and stood by the allegations.
One woman, Satenik Serobian, said her son Ishkhan was arrested and charged with theft nine months ago. “They beat him at the police station so much that he wanted to throw himself out of the window,” she told journalists.
The wife of another jailed suspect, Garegin Bozoyan, said she was at the police headquarters in Yerevan during her husband’s interrogation and could hear his screams from an adjacent room. “He was saying, ‘I had no part in that crime.’ But they kept beating and swearing at him,” she said.
Konstantin Muradian, a taxi driver, was taken to the police department of Yerevan’s Nork-Marash district for alleged drug possession earlier this year and is still in detention. His wife Hasmik claimed to have been unaware of his whereabouts for two days. “They tortured him so brutally that he urinated blood for three days,” she said. “Now he is in a psychiatric hospital and wants to kill himself.”
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the law-enforcement agency has received two complaints Muradian and has forwarded to the Yerevan police.
The national police service, for its part, said the torture allegations publicized by Sakunts are unsubstantiated and do not warrant an investigation. “There are no such things,” its chief spokesman, Sayad Shirinian, told RFE/RL.