YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Dozens of court hearings in Armenia were cancelled on Monday as lawyers went on strike to show support for their colleagues allegedly beaten up by police officers.
One of the lawyers, Karen Alaverdyan, claims to have been subjected to “undue physical force” after trying to stop several policemen kicking and punching his client at the police headquarters of Yerevan’s central Kentron district earlier this month.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee effectively denied the allegations on June 13, saying that Alaverdyan himself shoved and even hit the officers in a bid to free the criminal suspect. They had to briefly detain the lawyer, the law-enforcement agency said, adding that he was rightly charged with “hooliganism” and obstruction of legitimate police actions.
Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates voiced support for Alaverdyan and demanded a proper investigation into the incident. The national bar association organized the one-day strike to protest against what it sees as an official cover-up of the incident. Dozens of its members marched to the Kentron police headquarters to demand the sacking of its chief officer.
“We believe that if the police service does not react strongly to this case it will implicitly take full responsibility for this situation,” said one of the protesters.
Two other lawyers claimed to have been ill-treated at another Yerevan police station in February while representing a teenage criminal suspect. Their allegations were likewise denied by the police and the Investigative Committee.
The chairman of the Chamber of Advocates, Simon Babayan, decried the fact that the police have not even suspended or taken other disciplinary action against any officers accused of assaulting the lawyers. He said prosecutors and investigators dealing with those incidents must also face disciplinary proceedings.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General announced, meanwhile, that it has assigned the probe of Alaverdyan’s alleged beating to the National Security Service. Alaverdyan welcomed that decision, saying he hopes that the incident will now be investigated in earnest.
“This problem is not so much about me or my client as about addressing the causes of all this and reviewing state mechanisms for countering torture,” the lawyer told journalists.
Human rights activists say that ill-treatment of criminal suspects remains widespread in Armenia despite sweeping law-enforcement reforms promised by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government.
As recently as on June 22, a man in Yerevan claimed that the Investigative Committee chief, Argishti Kyaramyan, personally tortured and threatened to kill him following his arrest on June 17. A spokesman for Kyaramyan denied the allegations.