By Karine Kalantarian
State prosecutors have promised to investigate reports that a young Armenian man who spent more than five years in prison was tortured into confessing to a murder which he had never committed, it emerged on Thursday.
Armen Poghosian, a resident of the northern Lori region, was sentenced in 1999 to 15 years’ imprisonment on charges of raping and killing a 13-year-old girl. The verdict was upheld by two appeals courts that brushed aside Poghosian’s persistent claims that his pre-trial confession was extracted under duress.
Poghosian was set free last spring after prosecutors said they have identified the real perpetrator of the crime, admitting that the 25-year-old had nothing to do with it. His release from jail was shown by Armenian state television, with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian personally apologizing for the mistake. Hovsepian also presented him with a copy of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” a famous 19th century novel by Alexandre Dumas about a French nobleman who was unjustly kept in jail for much of his life.
The book was hardly a consolation for Poghosian who recently filed a lawsuit against the Armenian state, seeking 34 million drams ($72,000) in compensatory damages. His defense lawyer, Seda Safarian, insisted that her client had been harshly mistreated in police custody.
Safarian said the Prosecutor-General’s Office launched earlier on Thursday a criminal investigation into the apparent torture. “I want to believe that they will at last show the society that those who commit crimes against justice and forcibly extract testimony can be punished in this country,” she told reporters.
According to Mikael Danielian of the Armenian Helsinki Association, a human rights group that has closely monitored the case, Hovsepian himself must be brought to account along with his investigators and the judges that tried Poghosian. He said the man’s saga illustrates that Armenians are effectively denied the right to fair trial guaranteed by their constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mistreatment of criminal suspects remains commonplace in Armenia and is regularly highlighted by domestic and international human rights watchdogs. “Police beat and threatened to rape the detainees, later releasing them either without charge, or with petty charges punishable with fines or short periods of imprisonment under the Administrative Code,” Human Rights Watch said in a annual report released last month. “No officials were held to account for these incidents.”