Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian disputed on Monday a law-enforcement agency’s claims that crime figures held in at least one of Armenia’s prisons have continued to enjoy privileged treatment despite his pledges to root out prison corruption.
The National Security Service (NSS) publicized last week a secretly filmed video purportedly substantiating its claims about lax security in the prison located near the town of Armavir. It showed mobile phones, tablet computers and Internet connection devices confiscated by NSS officers who searched the prison cells.
The NSS also said that the prison administration gave privileged treatment to some of the inmates known for their strong underworld connections. The video showed one of them standing by the open door of his cell with no prison guards in sight. The NSS referred to him as an “overseer” subordinate to crime bosses.
The footage was released just days after Zeynalian assured Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian that convicts have longer been held in privileged conditions since last year’s “velvet revolution” thanks to sweeping measures taken by the Justice Ministry.
The Armavir prison chief, Khachik Harutiunian, resigned following the release of the NSS report. Zeynalian was quick to appoint him to a senior position in a Justice Ministry division running Armenia’s penitentiary institutions.
Zeynalian defended the appointment, saying that it did not amount to Harutiunian’s promotion. He also insisted that the NSS claims cannot be taken at face value yet.
“An internal inquiry has been ordered and that internal inquiry will determine whether or not they correspond to reality,” the minister told a news conference.
“In the penitentiary institutions there are no prison cells that are not searched [by prison guards,]” he said. “There are no inmates who are privileged like they were before and don’t have [unauthorized] things confiscated from them.”