Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has told visiting officials from a key Council of Europe watchdog that Armenian law-enforcement authorities are doing more to tackle the widespread ill-treatment of criminal suspects in custody.
The officials led by Mauro Palma, the head of the council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), arrived in Yerevan on a fact-finding visit earlier this week. They have spent the past few days meeting with Armenian law-enforcement officials and human rights activists. The latter have long regarded police brutality as the most common form of human rights violation in the country.
The CPT delegation was received by Hovsepian on Wednesday. A statement by the Office of the Prosecutor-General said Palma and other CPT officials inquired about “specificities and procedures” of investigating torture claims made by detained suspects in Armenia. It said they stressed the need for “an effective prosecutor oversight” of such investigations.
According to the statement, Hovsepian assured them that he has already ordered prosecutors across the country to step up that oversight. He said they will specifically have to look into every instance of injury sustained by a detainee and recorded by prison authorities.
“The key to the success of the fight against unacceptable methods of investigation is a punitive policy,” Hovsepian was quoted as saying. He pointed to the recent arrest and prosecution of two police officers in the town of Charentsavan. They are accused of ill-treating a man who was found dead at the local police station on April 13.
Mikael Danielian, the chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Association who also met the CPT delegation, on Thursday dismissed Hovsepian’s assurances. He claimed that the authorities are doing nothing to root out the illegal practice.
“Most police officers are uneducated and brutal people,” Danielian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Why? I don’t know. You should probably ask the police why he hires such people.”
Danielian also insisted that the Charentsavan man, Vahan Khalafian, was tortured to death, rather than committed suicide, as is claimed by the Armenian police. “It was not a suicide, it was a brutal murder,” he said.
The prosecutors’ statement said Hovsepian provided the CPT officials with “information” about Khalafian’s case as well as several other high-profile deaths in police custody and prison. He also said prosecutors are investigating torture allegations made by one of the Armenian opposition members imprisoned in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
A team of CPT officials had visited Armenia and interviewed some 70 jailed supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the unrest. Virtually all of them claimed to have been ill-treated during their arrest.
In an extensive report released in March, the Strasbourg-based watchdog said some detainees bore “physical marks or conditions consistent with their allegations.” It said the Armenian authorities must finally “make it clear to all law enforcement staff that the ill-treatment of persons in their custody is illegal and will be dealt with severely in the form of criminal prosecution.”