Human rights groups strongly criticized the Armenian authorities on Wednesday for ensuring that two police officers convicted of torture avoid imprisonment in accordance with a general amnesty.
The officers who served in Yerevan’s police department were sentenced to three years in prison late last week for brutal treatment of a man arrested on theft charges. The suspect, Robert Hovsepian, lodged a complaint against them after being found guilty of stealing a laptop computer and given a 7-year prison sentence last year.
“They arrested and tortured Hovsepian to extracted confessions on seven counts,” said Arman Danielian of the Civil Society Institute, a Yerevan-based human rights group. “They then had no evidence to prove six of those charges in court.”
The violent policemen did not go to jail thanks to the general amnesty declared by the authorities earlier this month. The amnesty applied to a wide range of crimes, including police torture.
Danielian said his organization and other watchdogs urged the authorities not to extend the pardon to the few law-enforcement officials prosecuted for ill-treatment of criminal suspects before the Armenian parliament passed a corresponding bill drafted by the government. He said they refused to amend it accordingly.
“This means it was a deliberate step. It cannot be justified in any way,” Danielian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to the release of the two policemen.
Edmond Marukian, an independent parliamentarian who also tried unsuccessfully to have the amnesty bill amended, criticized his pro-government colleagues. “Amnesty was extended to violent officials for a second time,” he said. “That’s very bad.”
Police torture has long been one of the most serious human rights abuses in Armenia, with the police and other law-enforcement bodies routinely extracting confessions from criminal suspects under duress. Local human rights activists say the illegal practice remains commonplace despite repeated government pledges to tackle it.
Artak Zeynalian, another civil rights campaigner leading the Supremacy of Law group, said the lenient treatment of the two policemen demonstrates that the authorities are not committed to addressing the problem. He said they are also failing to honor their international obligations on the due process of law.
According to Hovannisian, most Armenians ill-treated in custody still avoid lodging any complaints for fear of police retribution. “Hovsepian was one of the few persons who consistently complained about torture,” he said. “Our citizens are usually scared of complaining.”