By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian police announced on Wednesday a further drop in the country’s relatively low crime rate last year, while reporting an increase in the number of murders.
The national Police Service said it registered a total of 11,073 criminal acts, or 8.3 percent less than in 2002. It claimed to have solved 80 percent of them, including the bulk of 76 murders committed in 2003. The law-enforcement agency reported 69 killings the previous year.
In an annual performance report submitted to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, the law-enforcement agency said that combating illegal possession of firearms remains its main method of preventing serious crimes that threaten human lives. “The year 2003 saw a certain increase in the effectiveness of efforts made in that direction,” the report claims, listing 248 instances of arms possession identified by police officers.
The police presented the latest crime statistics as a confirmation Armenia’s status as one of the safest former Soviet republics. According to them, the country’s crime rate is far below that of Russia, Ukraine and some Central Asian states.
The number of Armenian residents prosecuted on criminal charges is said to have fallen to 6,647 from 7,524 in 2003. Many of them, according to local and international human rights organization, were likely to have been badly mistreated in custody by law-enforcement officers keen to extract testimony by force. The widespread police brutality is a major highlight of annual reports on Armenia released by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The police report, approved by Markarian, makes an indirect mention of this problem, saying that 84 officers were fired last year for “breaching citizens’ constitutional rights” and undermining “police discipline.” It says more than two dozen criminal cases were opened in connection with that. But there is no word on how many of them were actually convicted of human rights abuses and sentenced by courts.
Unlike other top government officials who have briefed Markarian on their one-year work over the past two weeks, the chief of the Police Service, Hayk Harutiunian, declined to hold an ensuing news briefing.
Harutiunian’s agency, formerly called the Interior Ministry, underwent a major structural change in late 2002 when it was renamed the Police Service and removed from the Armenian cabinet of ministers along with the Ministry of National Security. The reorganization reinforced President Robert Kocharian’s control over the country’s security apparatus.