By Karine Kalantarian
Senior prosecutors and police investigators said on Friday that they need much more time to decide whether or not to bring charges against criminal suspects than is given to them by Armenian law.
Under Armenia’s current Criminal Code law-enforcement authorities have up to 72 hours to formally accuse a detainee or set them free. If they decide to press ahead with the case they need a court decision to keep the suspect in custody.
Speaking at a seminar on criminal justice, a senior official from the Office of Prosecutor-General, Hakob Gharakhanian, complained that three days is too short a period for making objective judgments about a person’s involvement in a crime. “An investigator does not have to stay awake for several nights,” he said.
“One should not just come out and say, ‘We are integrating into Europe, the Europeans are always right and we must work like them’,” Gharakhanian added, defending the Soviet-era practice of much longer preliminary detentions.
The prosecutor said investigators should have at least ten days for leveling accusations and be able to keep suspects behind the bars in the meantime. A senior investigator from Armenia’s Police Service, Tatul Petrosian, picked up the point, arguing that by sanctioning pre-trial arrest under the current legislation the courts predetermine guilty verdicts.
“When an investigator brings charges after just three days of work they later serve as a basis for the court verdict,” Petrosian said.
Armenian judges rarely refuse prosecutors’ demands for pre-trial detentions. Official figures for last year show that more than 96 percent of 5,116 arrest petitions filed by prosecutors were rubber-stamped by the courts. Research conducted recently by the Civil Society Institute (CSI), a Yerevan-based non-governmental organization, has found that the number of such petitions has grown in recent years despite a drop in the number of crimes solved by the law-enforcement agencies.
The CSI survey quoted an unnamed judge as saying that the Armenian courts would release suspects from police custody pending trial in at least one third of cases if they were truly independent. Local human rights groups say the police and prosecutors are keen to keep suspects in jail because that makes it much easier for them to extract confessions through torture and psychological pressure.