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Mother Says Armenian Police Tortured, Killed Son

Vahan Khalafian in an undated photograph
Vahan Khalafian in an undated photograph
The relatives of an Armenian man who died in detention last week have accused the police of murdering him, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Relatives of Vahan Khalafian, who died in a police station in the town of Charentsavan, told RFE/RL on April 19 that they reject police claims that Khalafian committed suicide.

They said a forensic examination of Khalafian's body provided ample evidence of torture that they believe he suffered on April 13 at the police station in Charentsavan, which is about 40 kilometers north of the capital, Yerevan.

Khalafian, 24, and three other local men had been detained on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million drams' ($3,800) worth of goods.

The police claimed the next day that following an interrogation after his arrest, Khalafian took a "kitchen knife" from a police officer's drawer and fatally wounded himself in the stomach. They said he suffered from a mental disorder and had been exempted from military service in 2005 for that reason.

National police chief Alik Sarkisian today denied the family's claims, saying police officers did not need to forcibly extract any testimony from Khalafian as he had already confessed.

"I want to make clear that there was no torture," Sarkisian told RFE/RL. "Such claims about beatings, torture, and the like are made all the time, especially among the popular masses."

"There is simply no point in subjecting [a suspect] to torture after obtaining confessing testimony and other factual evidence," he added.

Armenia's Special Investigative Service questioned the police version of events after it took over the criminal investigation into Khalafian's death last week.

Khalafian's relatives said he had bruises on various parts of his body, lacerations on his chest, and two stab wounds on his abdomen. "They made crosses on his chest with a knife and stabbed him in the abdomen twice," his bereaved mother, Anahit Khalafian, told RFE/RL. "How could my boy make such crosses on himself?"

"If my son was a thief, they should have jailed him rather than killing him and sending me his dead body," she said, screaming in anger.

She claimed that her son was detained by the police only to extort a bribe from him.

Ill treatment of criminal suspects has long been regarded by critics as the most frequent form of human rights violations in Armenia. Local and international human rights groups continue to accuse law enforcement of extracting confessions by force and intimidation.