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Court Releases a Prison Officer Charged for Torture 

On November 26, 2019, during the court hearing Shengavit Court released Armen Hovhannisyan, officer of “Nubarashen” prison charged by the prosecutor’s office with torture (together with a group of people) of detainee Armen Aghajanyan and official falsification for concealing the fact of torture. Judge Davit Balayan changed the characterization of the offence and ruled not based on the Criminal Code’s articles related to torture and official falsification, but by articles on exceeding official powers and execution of official falsification. The latter offences fall under a list subject to pardon. Torturer Hovhannisyan was released immediately from the court house. If found guilty for torture, Hovhannisyan could spend up to 8 years in prison.

Gayane Aghajanyan, mother of Armen Aghajanyan together with lawyer Ara Gharagyozyan and human rights defender Nina Karapetyants gave a press conference at Media Center on November 27 and presented details from the court case. 

Armen Aghajanyan, detained in March 2018 was cruelly tortured in prison, then released on bail in July 2018. While in freedom, he managed to name Armen Hovhannisyan as one of his torturers. Soon after being released, he was detained again, and allegedly tortured again, after which he was transferred to a mental health facility. 5 days later, he was found hanged by using bed linen. Family members insist that it was not a suicide and Armen was murdered in order not to reveal the names of the three remaining officers that had tortured him. Investigation has not revealed the names of the remaining 3 officers.   

In October 2018, forrights.am reported of the court case over Armen Aghajanyan’s torture and alleged suicide chaired by Judge Davit Balayan. Everything started in March, 2018, when Armen was detained over charges related to fraudulent car sales. On the day of detainment, Gayane Aghajanyan, together with her husband went to the police department and had a chance to see their son for a short while. According to the mother, Armen had undergone an ostomy surgery months ago and his intestine was out through an opening in his abdomen. At that meeting, he looked fine, but asked for pouches for his stomach. He was, however, not to receive the pouches. Immediately after being transferred to “Nubarashen” prison, he allegedly got into a trouble with the prison workers who transferred him to a solitary confinement and severely beat him up with no care for his health condition.

Gayane Aghajanyan recalls that they were going to court for his identification during this time, so the day after his tortures, the family had a chance to see him in the court. Armen’s face was swollen, with many signs of bruises and violence. His brother managed to ask what had happened, and Armen only replied “the police officers did this.”

Within 10 days, the family manages to bail Armen out, with severe pain not only in his abdomen but also in his back, spine, lungs. Armen had announced that he would go on a hunger strike if he did not receive appropriate care. After the release on bail, Armen tells the family that an officer named Armen Hovhannisyan, together with 3 other officers severely beat him up. Officer Hovhannisyan, together with 2 others shows up at their house within a short while and starts apologizing and offering support for health expenses. The family refuse their support and file a formal complaint against him.

In July, in order to cover up the torture, Armen is detained and taken back to “Nubarashen.” Within days, he is transferred to the “National Center for Maintenance of Mental Health”, where he spends 5 days and is found hanged in the bathroom by using bed linen. The initial official assumption arrives as suicide.

Family members insist that Armen could not have committed a suicide. He was under constant guard and was not allowed to leave the room without police escort. He was found not by the police officer, but by the nurse. According to the mother, a few hours before his death, she talked to him over the phone and he sent her photos of him where he looked absolutely fine. He was talking to somebody else over the phone, when their connection was interrupted and screams were heard over the connection. The parents were not informed of Armen’s death on that day, they learned it from media about 30 hours later.

Without notifying parents, Armen’s body underwent autopsy. Gayane Aghajanyan recalls that immediately when they saw his corps, they realized that he had been beaten before being killed. Gayane has photos of her son’s dead body. Armen had sent his photos hours before his death looking absolutely fine. Now, his body carries many bruises, his head is swollen, there are cuts on his neck etc.

Armen Aghajanyan’s mother believes that her son was cruelly murdered and is perplexed at the decision of the judge who dismissed the evidences of torture and released the only available person in charge from responsibility. Lawyer Ara Gharagyozyan together with Gayane Aghajanyan will appeal this decision to a higher court and will write appeals to all possible instances, including the European Court for Human Rights. According to Gharagyozyan, judges like Davit Balayan should not serve in the judicial system.