Armenian Police Open to Public Oversight

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian police on Wednesday unveiled plans to ask prominent public figures to join a new supervisory body that will be charged with making police activities more transparent and preventing human rights abuses by law-enforcement officers.

Major-General Alik Sargsian, the chief of the national police service, said that “in a matter of days” he will set up a “public council” comprising well-known artists, scientists, intellectuals and representatives of civic groups.

“They will have the right to carry out the oversight of our work at any moment and inform mass media about that in a timely manner,” Sargsian told a news conference. He said the council’s mission will be to make the police “even more transparent to the society.”

He did not specify if human rights activists, opposition figures and other government critics will also be invited to sit on the body.

Local and international watchdogs have long regarded mistreatment of criminal suspects in police custody as the most frequent form of human rights violation in Armenia. They say police brutality remains commonplace despite the government’s stated efforts to tackle the problem.

The Armenian police’s human rights record came under fresh scrutiny with the launch of an unprecedented government crackdown on the opposition following last February’s disputed presidential election. The crackdown was accompanied by mass arrests of opposition members. Some of claimed to have been tortured in custody, a charge denied by law-enforcement bodies.

Sargsian on Wednesday pledged to launch an “internal inquiry” into a recently circulated opposition video that shows police officers relentlessly beating opposition supporters on March 1 hundreds of meters away from the scenes of opposition demonstrations in Yerevan. “But do not expect me put any policeman on trial for a mere scuffle,” he told journalists.

Sargsian said the police are also examining another footage that shows a police vehicle run over a protester later on March 1.


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