ARF Says Cafe Murder Probe ?Flawed?

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian Revolutionary Federation on Tuesday criticized the official inquiry into a September murder of one of its activists–saying that prosecutors have failed to identify all perpetrators of the crime blamed on President Robert Kocharian’s bodyguards. But the influential nationalist party stopped short of accusing Kocharian of withholding the truth about the death of Poghos Poghosian in a popular Yerevan caf.

"The fact that only one person has been charged in the case demonstrates that the investigation is flawed," ARF spokesman Gegham Manukian told RFE/RL. "Not all circumstances have been properly examined–and not individuals involved in the incident have been identified."

Prosecutors investigating the fatal incident have concluded that Poghosian–an ethnic Armenian from Georgia–died accidentally in a brawl with one of Kocharian’s security men. The man–Aghamal Harutiunian–has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. But the victim’s relatives and some human rights group–including the New York-based Human Rights Watch–say that he was beaten to death by several presidential guards.

"We are not going to politicize the issue," Manukian said when asked about Dashnaktsutyun’s further actions.

He indicated that the party–which has largely supported Kocharian ever since he became president in March 1998–has not raised the issue with the president and will instead make its case at Harutiunian’s upcoming trial.

"Much depends on the course of the trial," Manukian explained. "It will show whether every Armenian is equal before the law or there are some privileged people."

The ARF spokesman declined to comment on the Human Rights Watch claim that Kocharian has failed to make dozens of witnesses of the caf murder "feel safe in coming forward." Only one witness has formally testified that Poghosian was assaulted by several men.

"Although dozens witnessed as the bodyguards began to beat Poghosian on the terrace of the Aragast caf–fear of retribution and a resulting conspiracy of silence have starved the investigation of reliable testimony," the US watchdog said in a statement issued last Thursday.

But Manukian countered that "it’s not just fear that keeps people from giving testimony."Reluctance to testify to law-enforcement agencies has become part of people’s mentality," he claimed.

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