Foreign forensic experts can participate in the ongoing inquiry into the death of an Armenian activist who was charged with aiding opposition gunmen las summer, the Investigative Committee said on Monday.
The 49-year-old Artur Sargsian died at a Yerevan hospital March 16 hours after undergoing surgery there. He was set free on bail on March 6 following a 25-day hunger strike.
The Investigative Committee launched an investigation into his death under a Criminal Code article that deals with negligent homicides resulting from inadequate medical aid. The law-enforcement body has not charged anyone yet. Hospital doctors insist that they did their best to save Sargsian’s life.
Investigators conducted an autopsy on his body on Saturday after turning down a request from the activist’s relatives to postpone the examination so that foreign experts can also participate in it.A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Sona Truzian, defended the refusal, saying that an objective and conclusive post-mortem cannot be conducted more than two days after a person’s death.
Truzian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that tissue samples from Sargsian’s body as well as his medical records can be examined by any foreign experts that would be chosen by the family of the man widely known as “the Food Bringer.”
Sargsian drove his car through a police cordon to deliver food to armed members of a radical opposition group during their two-week standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead. He surrendered to them on July 31 along with the remaining gunmen holed up in a police compound.
Sargsian was released from custody in late December but was again arrested last month. Law-enforcement authorities investigating the standoff said he ignored their summons. Sargsian began a hunger strike immediately after his second arrest.
Armenian opposition groups have blamed the authorities for his death, saying that he suffered from several chronic illnesses and should not have been kept in custody in the first place.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), reacted cautiously to these allegations on Monday. “Responsibility and guilt are different things,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The inquiry will determine whether [the authorities] are to blame.”
Asked whether the authorities are responsible for Sargsian’s death, he said: “In any country, the government bears responsibility for all positive and negative phenomena.”
Sharmazanov also reserved judgment on Sargsian’s audacious decision to deliver food to the besieged gunmen. The official said only that he continues to believe that the seizure of the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district was a “terrorist attack.”
Meanwhile, around a hundred supporters of Sargsian continued to demonstrate in the Armenian capital on Monday to protest his death and demand the resignation of Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian. They also demanded criminal proceedings against those law-enforcement officials and judges who sanctioned Sargsian’s arrest.
Riot police used force against the mostly young protesters after they again blocked a street in the city center. Traffic through other major streets was unblocked in a similar fashion when the protesters attempted to stage sit-ins there over the weekend.