May 18, 2007
Agvan G. Hovsepyan
RA Prosecutor General
5, V. Sargsyan,
Republic of Armenia
Dear Mr. Hovsepyan,
Human Rights Watch is writing to express its concern about the recent death of 31-year old Levon Gulyan, who died while in the custody of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Yerevan on May 12. Ministry of Internal Affairs officials had been questioning Mr. Gulyan that day and on previous days regarding the killing of Stephan Vardayan. Witnesses have told Human Rights Watch that Mr. Gulyan’s corpse bore bruises and other signs of ill-treatment. We call on you to ensure a full and completely independent investigation into Mr. Gulyan’s suspicious death in custody and into allegations that his death may have been caused by police officials.
On May 9, Mr. Gulyan, owner of the “Pandok” restaurant, witnessed a fight between several individuals, which ended in the shooting of Stephan Vardanyan across the street from the restaurant. Mr. Vardanyan died as a result of the shooting. Soon after the shooting, at 3a.m. on May 10, Mr. Gulyan and Mr. Hayk Melkumyan, one of the restaurant’s employees, were detained by local police and questioned as witnesses to the murder. A second employee was questioned later that day. Mr. Gulyan was held until 10:30p.m. on May 10 and allowed to go home on the condition that he report to the police station again the next day at 10am. He was held from that time until 11a.m. on May 12, allowed to leave to participate in the parliamentary elections, and then returned voluntarily to the police station two hours later. When he returned to the police station, he was driven to the main building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Mr. Hayk Melkumyan told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten by local police during questioning about the murder. Mr. Gulyan told him, when they saw each other in custody on May 12, that he believed that everything was all right and that they would be released.
One of the lawyers initially representing Mr. Gulyan’s family saw the body a few hours after the death and saw bruises and evidence of ill-treatment.
We are aware that the prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation under Article 110 of the Criminal Code, “Forcible suicide.” While we welcome the initiation of a criminal investigation, the circumstances of the case give rise to concerns that the investigation to date does not meet international standards for deaths in custody, and that officials may be responsible for a graver crime in relation to Mr. Gulyan’s death. We urge you to ensure that your office conducts a full, independent, and transparent investigation into the circumstance surrounding Mr. Gulyan’s death capable of identifying and punishing those found to be responsible to the full extent of the law. We would recall that Armenia is bound by the obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to provide a complete and plausible explanation for any death in custody, based on a thorough and independent investigation which establishes the extent of the liability of the authorities in whose custody the deceased was when he died. Failure to carry out such an investigation and to pursue any appropriate prosecutions of those responsible would bring Armenia in violation of its obligations under the ECHR.
We also encourage you to take the necessary steps to ensure the rights of Mr. Gulyan’s family are respected. They have a right to participate in and have access to the investigation and to be represented to ensure that their interests are safeguarded. We are aware that officials only informed Mr. Gulyan’s relatives of his death at least three hours after it happened, making them unable to be present for or appoint counsel to witness the initial examination of his body. The United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions state that “the family of the deceased shall have the right to insist that a medical or other qualified representative be present at the autopsy.” We are aware that international medical experts have arrived in Yerevan and Mr. Gulyan’s relatives are seeking access for these experts to participate in an autopsy performed on Mr. Gulyan’s body. We sincerely hope that the prosecutor’s office can accommodate the participation of these experts in the autopsy and the investigation as part of a full, independent, and transparent investigation.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.
Europe and Central Asia Division
Hayk Harutyunyan, Chief of Internal Affairs, Armenia
Vladimir Pryakhin, Ambassador of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, Armenia
Anthony F. Godfrey, Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy to Armenia
Dr. Heike Renate Peitsch, German Ambassador to Armenia