The European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Armenian government to pay 31,000 euros ($40,000) in damages to a former opposition activist who was arrested and tortured in police custody during former President Robert Kocharian’s rule.
The ruling announced this week marked one of the heaviest fines slapped on Armenia by the Strasbourg court to date.
It stems from an appeal lodged by Grisha Virabian, a former member of a major Armenian opposition party, in connection with his April 2004 arrest by police in Artashat, a town 30 kilometers south of Yerevan.
Virabian, who lived in a village near Artashat at the time, was taken to the local police station for leading a group of local residents to Yerevan during the Armenian opposition’s ill-fated March-April 2004 campaign of demonstrations aimed at forcing Kocharian to resign. The then 44-year-old endured several hours of apparently brutal questioning and underwent urgent surgery in a local hospital the following day. One of his testicles was removed as a result.
Virabian says officers led by the then deputy chief of the Artashat police, Hovannes Movsisian, kicked him in the crotch and sides. He says the interrogation turned particularly brutal after he hit Movsisian with a mobile phone recharging device in response to the latter’s physical and verbal abuse.
The police denied torturing him, saying that he himself assaulted a “state official performing their duties.” Virabian risked at least five years in prison on corresponding charges before the criminal case against him was dropped in August 2009.
Armenian prosecutors and courts dismissed Virabian’s subsequent appeals to punish his interrogators. The oppositionist, who was granted political asylum in Belgium in 2009 and now lives there, took his case to Strasbourg as a result.
The European Court found his claims substantiated, saying that the Armenian authorities must pay the plaintiff 25,000 euros for the “moral damage” inflicted by the police torture and what it called a violation of his legal right to a fair trial. It said another 6,000 euros must be paid to Virabian to cover his legal expenses.
Reacting to the ruling on Friday, Virabian renewed his calls for the authorities to sack and prosecute the police officers who badly ill-treated him. “My goal is not to receive financial compensation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “My goal is to see those people punished. I will demand till the end that those policemen and judges be punished.”
Virabian’s ordeal was the result of a broader government crackdown on the opposition ordered by Kocharian in 2004. Scores of opposition activists across Armenia were rounded up by the police at the time. The Kocharian administration resorted to mass detentions of oppositionists also after a disputed presidential election in 2003 criticized as undemocratic by Western monitors.
Some of those oppositionists too appealed to the Strasbourg court. More than a dozen of them are known to have won their cases, receiving several thousand euros worth of compensation each. The court has yet to rule on similar appeals filed by dozens of other opposition activists who were jailed in the wake of the last presidential ballot held in February 2008.
Despite the relatively hefty sum awarded to his client, Virabian’s Yerevan-based lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, was less than happy with the court victory in Strasbourg. He argued that the police officers involved in the torture not only kept their jobs but were also promoted.
“If you need eight and a half years to prove that you’re not an idiot, would you call it a victory?” Ter-Yesayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But what are the [other] consequences? Who has been held accountable?”