Lawyers representing the family of a man who was beaten to death at a Yerevan restaurant in June criticized on Wednesday an ongoing criminal investigation into the high-profile assault conducted by the Armenian police.
They accused police investigators of refusing to give them access to details of the criminal case on the June 17 incident at the Harsnakar restaurant that has caused public outrage in Armenia.
Vahe Avetian, a military doctor, and two of his colleagues were brutally beaten by restaurant security guards in still unclear circumstances. Avetian, 33, died in hospital almost two weeks later. Six men are currently under arrest pending trial on assault charges.
Avetian’s death sparked a series of street protests in Yerevan against what their participants see as impunity enjoyed by government-linked wealthy businessmen and their notoriously violent bodyguards. Harsnakar is owned by one of those tycoons, Ruben Hayrapetian.
The uproar forced Hayrapetian to resign as a parliament deputy from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) last month. Opposition and civic groups say he should also face criminal charges for his possible role in the violence. Hayrapetian has strongly denied any involvement, however, while acknowledging his “moral” responsibility for Avetian’s death.
Tigran Yegorian, one of the two lawyers representing the victim’s family, said that on July 25 they asked the chief police investigator, Ruben Mkrtchian, for access to materials of the case and were told to come and take copies of those documents the following day. He claimed that Mkrtchian backtracked on that promise.
“This is incomprehensible, to say the least,” Yegorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said he and the other attorney, Lusine Hakobian, are now worried about a possible cover-up in the probe.
A police spokesman insisted, however, that the investigators sent a letter to the lawyers on July 27 informing them that they can take the promised materials on Wednesday. Yegorian denied receiving any letters from the police, however. He said he and Hakobian will therefore lodge a written complaint with Armenian prosecutors.
Hayrapetian, who also heads the Armenian Football Federation, was questioned by the police about a month ago. A senior police official said afterwards that the investigators see no legal grounds to prosecute him. He said the tycoon was not at Harsnakar during the incident.
Government critics dismissed the police assurances. Armenia’s leading opposition parties demanded a separate parliamentary inquiry into the assault. The pro-government majority in the National Assembly rejected the demand, saying that the police investigation is objective and transparent.