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Armenian Policeman Held In Probe Of Custody Death

Vahan Khalafian in an undated photo
Vahan Khalafian in an undated photo
An Armenian police officer has been arrested in the ongoing criminal investigation into the suspicious death of a man in police custody, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Armenia's Special Investigative Service (SIS) said the officer, Moris Hayrapetian, is suspected of abusing his powers in driving Vahan Khalafian, a 24-year-old from the town of Charentsavan, to commit suicide.

Police say Khalafian stabbed himself to death at the Charentsavan police station after confessing to committing a theft with three other young men.

Khalafian's relatives, however, said they believe he was tortured to death by his interrogators. They say a forensic examination of his body exposed ample evidence of ill-treatment.

The SIS, which is subordinated to state prosecutors, said last week that deadly torture is among the theories of Khalafian's death that is being considered.

Armenian police chief Alik Sarkisian said on April 20 that forensic experts will announce their final findings "within several days." He said police are not pressuring or interfering in their work.

There have been several other incidents where individuals have died in Armenian police custody under suspicious circumstances, such as the May 2007 death of Levon Gulian, a 31-year-old resident of Yerevan. Gulian was questioned at the police Directorate-General of Criminal Investigations about a deadly shooting that took place outside his restaurant.

The police said Gulian fell to his death while attempting to escape from a second-floor interrogation room of the police building in downtown Yerevan. Gulian's relatives -- backed by human rights groups -- disputed the claim and said he was apparently tortured before being thrown out the window.

A public outcry forced the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch an official inquiry into Gulian's death. The inquiry ended in March 2008 with an endorsement of the police version of the incident.