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Conviction Based on False Confession: Vardenis Family Robbed of 13 Years of Life

In March 2015, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Nalbandyan family from the Armenian town of Vardenis – spouses Narine and Bagrat, and their daughter Arevik – had been ill-treated while in police custody, along with being deprived of effective legal assistance. According to the Court, the Republic of Armenia had also violated Narine and Bagrat Nalbandyan’s right to a fair trial. Despite the ECHR ruling, however, Narine Nalbandyan still continues serving a 14-year prison sentence for murder.

Recall, the Nalbandyans were arrested in June 2004 in Vardenis in connection with the murder of one of Arevik’s classmates in Vardenis. The girl, whose body was found in a well not far from the family’s home, appeared to had been heavily beaten and tortured before being killed. The entire Nalbandyan family were soon taken into police custody and subjected to beatings, threats and torture by police officers in order to make  them confess to the murder. As a result, Narine Nalbandyan confessed to killing the 16-year-old girl, and her husband confessed to having assisted her. In February 2005l Bagrat and Narine Nalbandyan were found guilty of murder and sentenced to 9 and 14 years’ imprisonment, respectively. Their conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal in July 2005.

During the criminal proceedings against them, the spouses consistently denied their guilt and stated that they had only confessed to the murder under duress. They also complained about the atmosphere of constant intimidation in the courtroom, including threats, verbal and physical abuse directed at both the applicants and their lawyers by the relatives and friends of the murder victim. The Court of Cassation ultimately dismissed their allegations of ill-treatment, finding that they were unsubstantiated as there were no records of any ill-treatment, and did not examine their complaint of courtroom disorder during the proceedings.

Following the ECHR’s ruling, Seda Safaryan, a lawyer for the Nalbandyans, appealed to the Court of Cassation to overturn the 2005 ruling and send the case for further investigation. But while the investigation has been reopened, Safaryan tells Epress.am, Narine Nalbandyan continues to remain behind bars because of the constant postponement of case hearings.

The Nalbandyans, in turn, insist that the high-profile murder case was cooked up against them by the then Vardenis police chief, Viktor Hakobyan, and regional prosecutor Fedik Baghdasaryan. Incidentally, several months after the murder,says that then-assistant prosecutor Vardan Harutyunyan – who has since been appointed a judge of the first instance court of the Gegharkunik province – was present during her beating at the police station, and yet he did nothing to stop it.