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Human Rights Activist Alleges Torture and Harassment at Yerevan Psychiatric Clinic

Political analyst and founder of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights NGO (IDHR) Armine Arakelyan claimed in an interview with 1in.am that she was subjected to mockery, beatings, torture and harassment at Yerevan's Nubarashen mental health center. On May 17, the woman had gotten into a fountain basin at Yerevan’s Republic Square and was subsequently handcuffed and forcibly taken in an ambulance to the psychiatric clinic.

Explaining the reasons behind her actions, Arakelyan said that after the adoption of constitutional amendments in 2015, Armenia has entered the second phase of state-building, which leads to a “police state.”

“And people like us are left with non-legal forms of struggle. There are many ways to fight, and my action was one of them. There was nothing radical about it: that day I decided to take a walk at the Republic Square – which has a deep symbolic significance as the main square of our republic – to go for a swim at the pool  – also a symbolic move – and finally I came to the fountain and just sat there. I was to go to the [National Gallery] later.

“I – as a free woman – simply went for a swim and sat at the fountain. What's interesting is what happened later: I'm not naïve, and, being a political person, I wanted to see how the system would react [to my actions.]

“A simple example: on Vardavar (a summer Armenian festival where people drench each other with water) people climb into the fountains and pour water over each other. And what, should mothers no longer allow this so that their kids are not taken to mental clinics and beaten?”

The human rights activist added that she did not consider her action some special event: “You walk around the square, go for a swim – as many others do – and sit in the sun to dry. The reaction: police come up to you and immediately handcuff you without any negotiations, without stating the laws you've perhaps broken. Why? Why would police just handcuff people as if they were criminals without even letting them explain themselves?

“It's not like they were 'rescuing' me somehow. What was there to rescue me from? Besides, they should have just come and talked to me, and I would have gotten up and left.

“As for the claim that they were thinking of my safety: they had put handcuffs on me and sat me down on some iron inside the basin… And there was water under my feet. My life was endangered, while they would not even dare to enter the water. This is where the problem begins – the clash between the free man and the entire ruling system. […] Why should a person sitting at a fountain be assumed to be insane by the police?”

After forcibly removing her from the basin, as stated by Arakelyan, police put her in a so-called “ambulance” to take her to the Nubarashen clinic: “On the way to the clinic, some powerful man – who I don't think was a doctor but a member of the security forces – again handcuffed me. I received no medical care in the ambulance; they didn't even check my blood pressure – what if I had a sunstroke? 

“At Nubarashen, they dragged me across the floor and threw me onto a bed, tearing my clothes in the process. They tied me up really tightly; my arms and legs still hurt. They injected me with something, which I tried to resist but was unable to since there were 6-7 of them. Then they began beating me up, just hitting senselessly everywhere. They'd leave for a while, then they'd return and do the same thing all over again. […] They'd say mockingly 'What beautiful eyes you have' and hit me in the eye. Or – 'Your hair is so nice!' and pull my hair. I think they wanted to see how long I could psychologically endure it,” the activist said, adding that these people knew who they were torturing the entire time and kept receiving instructions on the phone.

“When activists from IDHR came, I heard them say, 'The relatives have come, untie her immediately.' I stood up, told them that I knew who they were and that they would pay for what they had done to me, and left.”

Arakelyan said she did not appeal for justice to state agencies since after the Constitutional reforms, “people like me have been pushed out of the legal field.” “Armenia is being turned into a police state, and there can no longer be any talk of a legal struggle,” she added.

Note, on June 2, Armenia's health minister Armen Muradyan insisted in an interview with 1in.am that Arakelyan had not been subjected to beatings or harassment in the clinic. “Her relatives accompanied her [to Nubarashen] in the ambulance. No one was beaten up in the clinic. Her movements were maybe restricted [by handcuffs] solely out of health concerns, but there can be no question of beatings.”

Armenia's human rights ombudsman Arman Tatoyan, for his part, has appealed to General Prosecutor Gevorg Kostanyan to look into Arakelyan’s torture and ill-treatment allegations and to initiate proceedings under the country's criminal code, if necessary, according to a statement issued by the Ombudsman's office.