STRASBOURG (RFE/RL) — In fresh rulings against Armenia, the European Court of Human Rights has fined the authorities in Yerevan a total of 71,000 euros ($77,000) for the torture and other “inhuman treatment” of four Armenian citizens held in custody.
The Strasbourg court on Tuesday also declared illegal a May 2008 government ban on a demonstration against police brutality which an Armenian human rights group had planned to hold in Yerevan.
The group, the Armenian Helsinki Committee, sought no material compensation in its lawsuit filed to Strasbourg later in 2008.
Most of the damages ordered by the court, 62,000 euros, are to be paid to three members of a family that resided in the eastern Armenian town of Vardenis. Bagrat Nalbandian and his wife Narine were arrested in 2004 and subsequently sentenced to 9 and 14 years’ imprisonment respectively on charges of murdering a classmate of their teenage daughter Arevik.
The couple initially confessed to the killing only to retract their testimony during their trial, saying that it was extracted in police custody through torture and blackmail. In particular, Narine Nalbandian claimed to have been “beaten on the soles of her feet with a baton.”
“On the same occasion the police threatened to rape her [16-year-old] daughter, who had been brought to the police station and locked up in a nearby, dark room infested with rats, if she did not confess,” reads the ruling. “As a result, Ms. Nalbandian confessed to the murder and her husband confessed to having assisted her.”
“Their daughter alleges that she was taken to the police station on numerous occasions, frequently at late hours, and threatened with rape if she did not admit that her mother had committed the murder … Arevik was taken to hospital by her uncle on 16 July 2004 and found to have concussion and bruising to her head, back and left arm,” it says.
Armenian prosecutors and judges repeatedly refused to investigate their torture allegations in earnest.
The European Court said relevant Armenian authorities also violated another article of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantees citizens’ right to a fair trial. The 2005 trials of Avetisian and her husband took place in an “atmosphere of constant disorder in the courtroom,” it said.
In the third ruling on Armenia, the court awarded 9,000 euros in damages to a former Armenian banker, Artak Davtian, who was arrested in 2003 on fraud charges and subsequently sentenced to 6 years in prison. It backed Davtian’s claims that from 2003-2006 he was denied urgent medical treatment of his life-threatening illnesses outside the prison. He was allowed to undergo two surgeries in hospital only after a drastic deterioration of his condition.
The prison administration’s reluctance to give the convict access to adequate healthcare amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” banned by the European Convention, ruled the Strasbourg court.
Davtian expressed his satisfaction with the judgment on Wednesday. “I hope that after this ruling, investigators prosecutors and judges … will stick to the law when dealing with arrested or imprisoned persons,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The three rulings highlighting widespread abuses in Armenia’s jails and pre-trial detention centers, raised to 55 the total number of court cases lost by the Armenian authorities in Strasbourg since 2001. They have cost the authorities more than 500,000 euros in compensations to plaintiffs. With hundreds of other European Court cases pending against them, the bill is certain to rise further in the coming months and years.
Armenian human rights lawyers are increasingly calling on the government to ensure that these sizable damages are paid not from the state budget but by law-enforcement officials and judges personally responsible for them.