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Death of Ill Armenian Prisoner No Accident, Human Rights Advocate Says

The death of Armavir jail inmate Hrachya Gevorgyan, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had multiple other chronic conditions, was no accident and could be related to his repeated statements about internal prison arrangements, Nina Karapetyants, head of the Yerevan-based Helsinki Association for Human Rights (HAHR), said at a press conference on Thursday.

“His existence alone hindered many people because he openly spoke about the problematic conditions in the prison,” Karapetyants noted. The human rights advocate added that in his letters, Gevorgyan would refer to Yerevan’s Nubarashen jail – where he used to be held before being transferred to Armavir – as “Nubarashen Business Center” because, according to the prisoner, “you can easily sell or find whatever you want inside the prison.”

Drug trade in particular, Gevorgyan would write, was a major issue in the prison, and was being carried out through prison officers. “Everything has been done so that there are no people interfering with the business activities of the system … Even if Gevorgyan was not killed, he was deliberately deprived of proper medical care,” Karapetyants said.

For years, justice ministry officials denied Gevorgyan’s appeals for proper treatment and early release, insisting that the prisoner was receiving the necessary medical care and that there were no grounds for his release. “Even the office of the Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman would reply to our appeals that Gevorgyan was simulating his disabilities. But it’s impossible to feign Parkinson’s. I will not even be surprised if they call his death a simulation, too,” the HAHR head noted.

Gevorgyan’s last hunger strike, which he carried out with his mouth sewn, lasted 57 days; in addition to proper medical care, the prisoner was also demanding that a toilet be installed in his cell because he was unable to leave the cell in a wheelchair and use the toilet room.

“We found out about his death through another inmate at around 8:30 pm [on April 5] and received a phone call from penitentiary officials only at 11 pm. According to reports, however, the death had occurred much earlier – at around 6 pm,” Karapetyants said. The autopsy, she added, had been scheduled for 9 am the following morning, which left Gevorgyan’s representatives no time to invite their own expert. “They told us at night that we had to be present at the autopsy at 9 in the morning, which was intended to hinder us from bringing our own expert with us.”

Armenia’s Justice Minister Arpine Hovhannisyan has ordered an internal investigation into Gevorgyan’s death; however, the HAHR head said she did not believe that anyone would actually be held responsible for his passing. “In any event, we do not intend to sit idly by; we’ll wait for the results of the examinations and see what we can do from there,” Karapetyants said.