By Shakeh AvoyanArmenia’s top official in charge of human rights protection accused law-enforcement authorities at the weekend of violating the due process in their criminal investigation into a bribery scandal involving one of her employees.
Larisa Alaverdian, the human rights ombudsman, told RFE/RL that the National Security Service (NSS), the Armenian successor to the Soviet-era KGB, illegally broke into her office early on Friday hours after arresting a member of her staff.
The official, Serob Antinian, was arrested after allegedly extorting a $300 bribe from the owner of a restaurant in downtown Yerevan. Armenian state television showed afterward NSS footage of Antinian purportedly accepting the cash in return for a pledge to ignore a complaint against the restaurant owner that had been lodged with the ombudsman’s office by residents of nearby buildings.
According to Alaverdian, NSS investigators raided her office and confiscated its main computer at night without even informing her. She said the computer contained information about individuals alleging human rights abuses. Under Armenian law that information can not be disclosed without their consent.
“I have received no written assurances that the confidential information contained in the computer will not be used to the detriment of plaintiffs and government officials mentioned in their appeals,” Alaverdian said, calling NSS actions “inadmissible.” She also charged that the security agency violated the suspect’s legally guaranteed presumption of innocence by having state television broadcast the secretly filmed images.
NSS officials were not immediately available for comment. The bribery case is a major embarrassment for Alaverdian whose modest powers were recently curtailed by the government.
Earlier this month Armenia’s Constitutional Court effectively annulled a legal provision giving the ombudsman access to any court documents relating to human rights cases. The court backed government claims that the clause threatens the “independence” of the Armenian judiciary. Alaverdian and the Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs strongly disagreed with the ruling.
The ruling came shortly after Alaverdian’s office criticized last year’s government crackdown on the Armenian opposition, saying in an annual report that it was accompanied by serious violations of civil liberties.