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‘Unprecedented’: Innocent Man Acquitted After 31 Months’ Arrest and Torture

Armenia's mass media outlets, some of which in October, 2013, violated presumption of innocence [ARM] and accused based on investigative authorities' trumped up charges Vanadzor resident Karen Kungortsev of murdering 15-year-old Yerevan teenager Davit Hovakimyan,  disregarded his press conference in Yerevan on Tuesday, April 19. Have reporters showed up, they would have also met the mother of the innocent young man who pointlessly spent 31 months in prison, the father of the victim, their lawyers, and the human rights activists from the Armenian Helsinki Association who worked tirelessly for years to prevent the sentencing of a blameless person.

The unprecedented verdict was issued by Lori District Court judge Narine Hovakimyan who remained unswayed by the prosecution's demands of 9,5 years' imprisonment, by coerced witness testimonies and numerous other cases of illegal conduct by law enforcement officials. All participants at yesterday's press conference spoke highly of the judge, stressing that the simple act by Hovakimyan of properly implementing her judicial duties is a matter of rejoicing in the Armenian reality.

According to human rights defender Mikayel Danielyan, Kungortsev's acquittal was a “great victory” for them: “I wouldn't go so far as to say that democracy has won in Armenia and that the courts are independent: this was a manifestation of the will of a single judge, Narine Hovakimyan, who found the strength to act against the prosecution's order. We were also empowered by the fact that the successor to the victim and his legal representative fought alongside us for Karen's release.”

Kungortsev plans to go to court with a claim for compensation, and Helsinki Association lawyer Arayik Papikyan noted that if Armenian courts refuse to meet their demands, they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Kungortsev himself emphasized the importance of the fact that Hakob Hovakimyan, the father of the killed teenager, fought alongside the defendant's lawyers to make sure that an innocent person was not convicted for his son's murder.

Kungortsev also told reporters about his forceful detainment by police in 2013: “They came to my workplace, handcuffed me with no explanation and took me to the police station, where I was forced to sign papers with unfamiliar content. They would beat me to force a confession, they'd say everything would be fine if I did as they said. I've submitted hundreds of torture reports to numerous organizations and agencies, but no one paid any attention to them.”

The court's fair ruling, as stated by Hakob Hovakimyan's lawyer, Armine Fanyan, showed that “the state has erred [in investigating the murder case] and should compensate for it.” “The state has to bear the whole responsibility for its mistake; [authorities] should use significant resources to solve this crime. From the very beginning, the investigation body worked towards only one version and ignored all other options. The preliminary body's sole aim was Karen's indictment,” Fanyan noted.

The victim's father, in turn, said that after familiarizing himself with the materials of the criminal case, he was convinced that his son had not been murdered by Kungortsev. “There was nothing that indicated he was the killer. My goal was not the imprisonment of a random person for my son's death. I wanted to achieve justice; therefore, when I realized Karen had not killed my son, I did everything to make sure he was acquitted. I'm very grateful to the judge.”

Arayik Papikyan also spoke about the press publications in 2013, which, according to the lawyer, “even jeopardized Kungortsev's life.” “From the outset, the press coverage of the case was accompanied by numerous violations of the presumption of innocence. [Kungortsev] was even called a 'criminal authority' in the press, and it was obscene what people on social networks proposed to do to him the following days. At the time of the issuance of the arrest warrant I even said that taking into account what awaited Karen outside, it was safer for him to remain in prison. If it weren't for these publications, we might have even been able to close the case with the preliminary body within a couple of months,” the lawyer stressed.

Tekali Taxi