Armenian law-enforcement authorities’ long-running practice of routinely keeping criminal suspects in custody may put them at odds with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), former Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian warned on Thursday.
Kostanian, who now represents Armenia in the ECHR, argued that the Strasbourg-based court has adopted stricter requirements for the pre-trial arrest of people in the Council of Europe member states. He said law-enforcement authorities there must now prove that arrested individuals, who have appealed to the ECHR, would go into hiding or obstruct justice if set free.
“Whereas [until now] we could justify the need for arrest only with the fact of a crime … now an even individual who committed the most serious crime can be arrested only if it is substantiated that they could flee or evade [prosecution,]” Kostanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Therefore, our law-enforcement bodies must pay special attention to the matter. Or else, we will get recognitions [by the ECHR] of widespread violations [of the due process,]” said the ex-prosecutor who was recently elected to the Armenian parliament on the ruling Republican Party’s ticket.
Human rights groups have long criticized Armenian law-enforcement agencies for usually keeping suspects, including those charged with minor crimes, in pre-trial detention. They believe that the practice makes it easier for investigators to extract confessions.
Armenian courts rarely agree to order the release of suspects on bail or otherwise pending investigation.
Ara Gharagyozian, a lawyer who has represented many opposition activists, was skeptical about the new ECHR requirements. He said the increased likelihood of ECRH rulings against Armenia carrying heavy fines will hardly deter Armenian judges or prosecutors.
“Mr. Kostanian may say the right things but our law-enforcement bodies and courts usually do the opposite,” he said.
One of Gharagyozian’s clients, Ara Khandoyan, was arrested last summer in connection with violent clashes between opposition supporters and riot police in Yerevan. Armenian courts refused to grant Khandoyan bail. His lawyer challenged those decisions in the Strasbourg court earlier this year.