By Anna Saghabalian
The legal team representing the family of a young man who died in police custody last month fear the case may be closed for lack of corpus delicti, which they claim to be a usual practice in Armenia.
Hrair Ghukasian and Aram Karakhanian attended Friday discussions that had brought together human rights activists, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and the family of Levon Gulian, who died under unclear circumstances while being interrogated as a murder witness on May 12.
The police insisted that Gulian, 31, tried to escape through the window of a second-floor interrogation room and accidentally “fell down in the process.” The victim’s family, however, do not trust the suicide version.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General launched its investigation under an article of the Armenian penal code that deals with cases where individuals are forced to commit suicide.
But speaking at the event organized by the civil national initiative and the nongovernmental organization in defense of Levon Gulian, the lawyers said weeks after the start of the investigation, no one has been charged. Furthermore, they said, officially, there isn’t even a suspect in the case.
The lawyers fear the case may be closed for lack of corpus delicti, in other words, that no essence of the crime will be found in the actions of police on that day.
“If investigators arrive at the conclusion that it was an accident, that is, it happened through no one’s fault, then the criminal case will not reach the court, but will be dismissed at the stage of preliminary investigation,” Karakhanyan said.
NGO representatives attending the discussion were unanimous in their opinion that irregardless of wordings and details of the case, if the man died in a law-enforcement establishment, there must be someone responsible for his death.
Lawyer Zaruhi Postanjian said: “The state bears direct responsibility, and it does so through concrete persons. In this case, the concrete persons are police workers. I think that not only the police workers involved, but also the chief of police must resign over this matter.”
Postanjian thinks that public pressure should not be lessened in Gulian’s case. She added: “I see that the desire in this case is to try and ‘freeze’ it the way it usually happens with similar cases. They cannot dismiss it at once, but they can shelve it. This fits well into their style and handwriting.”
Armenia’s first ombudsperson Larisa Alaverdian said that regardless of the results of the expert examination as to under what circumstances Gulian died, it is necessary to focus on the circumstance that Gulian had voluntarily gone to the police and never came back.
“It Has Started” Initiative representative Arsen Kharatian called the case a murder and urged all human rights organizations and society to stop calling it ‘death’.
He told RFE/RL that society must ask questions also about deputy chief of police’s criminal investigation department Hovik Tamamian.
“The whole city is full of talk about him [Tamamian], about how he treats people. Everyone knows it,” Kharatian claimed, adding that the public has all grounds not to trust the country’s law-enforcement bodies.