In a ruling handed down late on Tuesday, the Strasbourg-based court said the late Ashot Harutiunian had been humiliated by prosecutors during his trial and denied adequate medical assistance during his imprisonment.
Harutiunian suffered from several serious illness and died of a second heart attack in the Kosh prison in central Armenia at the age of 57 in January 2009. He was arrested in May 2003 and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of defrauding a business partner. He insisted on his innocence throughout his trial.
In a September 2004 lawsuit filed to the European Court, Harutiunian protested the fact that he was kept in a metal cage during the trial and accused law-enforcement authorities of not allowing him to undergo urgent surgery recommended by doctors at a prison hospital in Yerevan. He claimed that prison authorities ignored his requests for medical assistance, medication and a special diet.
Harutiunian was not transferred to the prison hospital even after suffering the first heart attack in July 2004.
In its written objections submitted to the court, the Armenian government insisted that the businessman always had access to a doctor and received treatment whenever requested. It said he was hospitalized and had surgery for an intestinal ulcer in June 2003.
The court countered, however, that there are no medical records proving that such operation was actually ever carried out. “Nor did the applicant’s medical file contain a single record of any check-up by or assistance from the detention facility’s medical staff between 29 August 2003 and 13 August 2004,” it said in the ruling.
The court concluded that on both counts the Armenian authorities violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment” of criminal suspects.
The late convict briefly regained freedom when a state commission dominated by senior law-enforcement officials on parole for good behavior in early 2007. However, an Armenian court promptly quashed the decision after an appeal from state prosecutors.
Harutiunian’s lawyer, Hayk Alumian, claimed on Wednesday that Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian personally made sure that his client is sent back to jail because of having close ties with another businessman allegedly defrauded by Harutiunian. “There was a direct intent to further exacerbate that person’s suffering,” Alumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The European Court fine, which must now be paid to the plaintiff’s daughter, is a further blow to the credibility of Armenia’s reputedly corrupt law-enforcement, judicial and penitentiary systems. The Strasbourg tribunal had already slapped hefty fines on Yerevan in over a dozen cases filed by Armenian citizens in the past.
Alumian predicted that its latest ruling will also not curb the scale of human rights abuses in the country. “When state officials in Armenia violate provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, they know that even if we win a case against them at the European Court they will not be held accountable,” he said. “Officials may stop committing so many violations only if they know that they can bear financial and other responsibility as a result of European Court rulings.”