By Ruzanna StepanianRelatives of a young man who died in police custody at the weekend appealed to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Monday to thwart what they see as attempts by the Armenian police to cover up the extraordinary case of brutal torture.
Levon Ghulian died in mysterious circumstances on Saturday while being questioned by the police as a presumed witness of a deadly gunfight in Yerevan reported earlier last week. The police claim that during the interrogation the 30-year-old father of two tried to escape through a window but slipped and fell to the ground from the second floor of a police building in Yerevan.
Ghulian’s close relatives strongly deny this version of events, saying that he was tortured to death by police interrogators. State prosecutors have launched a criminal inquiry into the incident which has cast a fresh spotlight on the problem of police brutality in Armenia. Local and international watchdogs say the practice is widespread.
“They probably hit him in the head with something and he died,” Ghulian’s uncle, Toros Papazian, told RFE/RL. “They just don’t want to admit that he died in a police office.”
Papazian said his nephew’s body bore traces of violence such as a broken rib and thigh bone and bruises on his heels. “Levon was accidentally tortured to death before being thrown out of the window,” he said.
Ghulian was the owner of a restaurant in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit district near which a man was shot dead on May 9 in a reported dispute between two groups of unknown individuals. He was first detained and questioned at Shengavit’s police department.
“They were forcing Levon to name the murderer,” Papazian said. “He didn’t know that, but they kept beating him.”
Papazian added that Ghulian was for days repeatedly interrogated by the Shengavit police and prosecutors before being taken to the national Police Service’s Directorate General of Criminal Investigations on Saturday. He said the deputy chief of the department, Hovik Tamamian, personally drove him to his office.
In a joint letter, members of the dead man’s extended family asked Sarkisian to interfere in the inquiry. “The prime minister was saying during the election campaign that all the guilty must be punished and that Armenia must become a law-abiding country,” explained Papazian.
“I’ve heard that my brother wasn’t the first victim [of police torture] and that there have been such cases before,” Ghulian’s grieving sister Marine told RFE/RL. “I don’t know want the relatives [of other victims] did. I am appealing to them to join us in fighting against such injustice.”
“Let my brother be the last victim,” she added.