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Rights Groups Concerned By Death Of Armenian In Police Custody

Vahan Khalafian died in police custody earlier this month.
Vahan Khalafian died in police custody earlier this month.
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and three Armenian human rights groups today expressed "deep concern" at the suspicious death of a man in Armenian police custody, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Vahan Khalafian, 24, died shortly after being interrogated at the police station in the small town of Charentsavan on April 13.

Police claim Khalafian stabbed himself to death at the station after confessing to committing a theft together with three other men. Khalafian's relatives believe he was tortured to death by his interrogators. They say a forensic examination of his body exposed ample evidence of ill-treatment.

The Armenian human rights groups urged authorities to conduct a "transparent and effective investigation." "The circumstances of this death must be investigated and the guilty brought to justice," they said in a joint statement. "This is not the first case of a person dying in [Armenian] police custody."

Police today arrested a second, more high-ranking police officer in the ongoing criminal investigation into the case.

The officer, Ashot Harutiunian, is head of the police's criminal investigation unit in Charentsavan, which is some 40 kilometers north of Yerevan.

Armenia's Special Investigative Service (SIS), which is conducting the inquiry, said Harutiunian is suspected of abusing his powers and driving Khalafian to commit suicide.

Policeman Moris Hayrapetian was arrested on the same charges last week.

The charges seem to indicate that the SIS will accept police claims that Khalafian stabbed himself to death.

The SIS, which is subordinated to state prosecutors, said earlier this month that deadly torture is among the theories of the incident considered by investigators. "The investigation is continuing, and information about its results will be released later on," it said today.