Law-enforcement authorities launched on Tuesday criminal proceedings against senior Justice Ministry officials effectively accused by Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman of violent conduct.
The move stems from allegations by Yerevan resident Arman Gasparian that he was physically and verbally abused late last month by the officials working at a ministry department managing Armenia’s prison. Gasparian says that he was attacked by them after escorting a friend serving a suspended prison sentence to a department office in Yerevan. The 32-year-old has posted purported audio of the incident on YouTube.
Ombudsman Karen Andreasian cited the recording when he lent credence to the assault allegations on Monday. Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian was quick to order an internal inquiry and suspend two officials from the department pending its conclusion.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) also took the allegations seriously, saying that it will conduct an official investigation under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with violent abuse of power. The SIS did not immediately detain or charge anyone.
“We are awaiting action by both the SIS and the Justice Ministry,” Andreasian told a news conference on Tuesday. “There can be no justification for such deeds. We hope to see an adequate reaction that will serve as an example for violent or rude officials.”
Civil rights campaigners believe that the assault allegations may well be true. Artur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor branch of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, cited a pervasive “culture of violence” among Armenian security officials and government loyalists. “Such practices are not unusual in our reality,” agreed Levon Barseghian, a Gyumri-based newspaper editor and activist.