A senior Armenian police officer was suspended over the weekend after being seemingly caught on video brutally beating a man together with three other individuals.
The blurry video was posted by the NewsMedia.am on its website and YouTube and widely circulated by other Armenian media last Thursday. It shows four men punching, kicking and swearing at the victim in unclear circumstances. One of them then forcibly puts a gas mask on his head while another starts hitting his shoe soles with a truncheon.
The media outlet claimed that the torturers are police officers who tried to extract testimony from a witness or criminal suspect brought into a police station. But it did not specify when and where exactly the incident was filmed.
The Armenian police were quick to launch an internal inquiry into the scandalous video that caused outrage among viewers and prompted serious concern from the country’s human rights ombudsman.
A police statement cited by the Armenpress agency on Saturday said one of the violent individuals shown in the footage turned out to be the current head of the police department of Chambarak, a small town in Armenia’s northeastern Gegharkunik province. The officer, Narek Simonian, was suspended as part of the ongoing police inquiry, the statement said, adding that the police are now trying to identify the other men involved in the violent interrogation.
A separate, criminal investigation is conducted by the Special Investigative Service (SIS). The law-enforcement agency did not detain or charge anyone as of Monday afternoon.
Ill-treatment of criminal suspects has long been commonplace in Armenia, with law-enforcement officers threatening and beating suspects to extract confessions. They have rarely been prosecuted for such illegal practices.
“From the summer of 2015 through the beginning of 2019 we had 113 [torture-related] criminal cases and 73.4 percent of them were closed.” said Gohar Simonian, the head of an anti-torture desk at the ombudsman’s office. Only four officials have gone on trial on torture charges this year, she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.