Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian has suspended the head of Armenia’s largest prison pending investigation into possible abuse of power alleged by law-enforcement authorities, it was announced on Wednesday.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General said officers of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body subordinate to it, raided the Nubarashen prison in Yerevan on Tuesday and found evidence of abuses committed by the prison administration headed by Rubik Stepanian. It did not give any details.
The Justice Ministry, which oversees Nubarashen and other Armenian prisons, also declined to elaborate on the alleged violations. It said only that Stepanian was relieved of his duties at least until the end of the inquiry conducted by the SIS.
The development followed media reports that masked men raided Nubarashen and triggered protests by some prison inmates on Tuesday.
A Justice Ministry department running the Armenian penitentiary system essentially confirmed the reports. Its press office said SIS officers met with resistance from some inmates when they conducted “investigative actions” in one of the prison cells. But it did not give any details.
Armenian civil society representatives monitoring notoriously harsh prison conditions in the country visited Nubarashen later on Tuesday. The chairman of their monitoring team, Ruben Sargsian, said none of the prisoners interviewed by them complained about the SIS officers’ or prison guards’ actions.
“We are now trying to collect additional information,” Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Nubarashen chief was suspended several months after a similar incident that was reported from the Soviet-era jail. The Justice Ministry conducted an investigation and cleared the prison administration of any wrongdoing at the time. Some Armenian human rights activists accused it of covering up abuses by prison guards.