a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. According to an October 3 report by Hetq.am, in June 2018 detainee Armen Aghajanyan was found hanged in the Nubarashen National Center for Mental Health where he had been transferred from Nubarashen Penitentiary for a psychological assessment. The family believed he was killed to prevent his identification of the guards who beat him in March 2018 upon his admission to the penitentiary, including Major Armen Hovhannisyan, who was charged with torture and falsification of documents. Aghajanyan’s family stated there were signs of violence on his body and that he was taller than the height of the sewage pipe from which he allegedly hanged himself on June 12. At the time of the alleged suicide, Armen Hovhannisyan, one of the guards who had been identified as having beaten Aghajanyan, was in custody. As of November 1, the investigation into Aghajanyan’s death continued; however, on November 26, trial court judge Davit Balayan freed Hovhannisyan, ruling that his actions did not constitute torture but exceeded official authority. The judge applied a 2018 amnesty to Hovhannisyan.
Throughout the year there were media reports that the Ministry of Defense was providing incomplete information or not reporting on certain noncombat deaths in the army. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) voiced concern regarding the Defense Ministry’s classification of military deaths and the practice of qualifying many noncombat deaths as suicides, making it less likely that abuses would be uncovered and investigated. Of note, NGOs reported that after car accidents, health ailments were the second most common cause of military deaths, calling into question the adequacy of health services in the armed forces and whether young men with serious pre-existing health conditions were being conscripted.
On February 11, media outlets reported that the Defense Ministry had hidden the death of contract serviceman Edgar Grigoryan, who allegedly committed suicide on January 1 in Syunik region. On February 12, the defense minister responded to the press stating that the death was not related to his military service and thus not reported. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Grigoryan was intoxicated and shot himself in the chest after threatening a senior officer at his duty station. Grigoryan’s family disputed this account. Six soldiers received disciplinary fines as a result of the investigation into Grigoryan’s death. The investigation continued at year’s end.
In response to demands from families whose sons died in the army under noncombat conditions, the government established a working group consisting of NGOs and individual experts to examine five past cases and identify systemic problems. The group commenced work in November 2018. After a few months, several members quit the group, citing their lack of access to case materials. Other NGOs, however, continued in the group, citing good cooperation with the Investigative Committee, and two NGOs presented their observations to the committee on the shortcomings they had discovered in the investigations. By year’s end the Investigative Committee was examining those observations.
On October 10, the government approved the Judicial and Legal Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 and the national action plan for its implementation. The strategy envisaged the creation of a fact-finding group to examine noncombat deaths, among other human rights violations.
In its July 8 biannual report on the human rights situation in the armed forces, the NGO Peace Dialogue noted that, for the first time, the Ministry of Defense had designated the protection of soldiers’ human rights as an organizational priority. On July 24, the Defense Ministry launched a “trust line,” a telephone number that soldiers may call to submit complaints, ask for assistance, and provide suggestions.
On September 12, hearings began in a high-profile case against former officials for their alleged involvement in sending the military to break up protests following the 2008 presidential election, in which eight civilians and two police officers were killed. Charges filed in this and associated criminal cases included allegations of overthrowing the constitutional order, abuse and exceeding official authority, torture, complicity in bribery, official fraud, and falsification of evidence connected with the investigation of the 2008 postelection events. High-profile suspects in the cases included former president Robert Kocharyan, former minister of defense Mikhail Harutyunyan, former deputy minister of defense Yuri Khachaturov, former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, former chief of presidential staff Armen Gevorgyan, former police chief Alik Sargsyan, former prosecutor general Gevorg Kostanyan, and others. On July 27, Kocharyan was charged with overthrowing the constitutional order in connection with the violent suppression of protests in 2008. Authorities charged Gegham Petrosyan, a former deputy police commander, with the murder of Zakar Hovhannisyan during suppression of the protests.
On January 29, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic issued a report on her September 2018 visit to the country, which noted that authorities had taken steps to establish responsibility for the violent events and deaths of March 2008. The report noted the importance of conducting the process in a careful manner “in strict adherence to the principles of rule of law, judicial independence, transparency, and guarantees of fair trial,” in order to dispel any accusations of revenge politics or selective justice.
On June 4, parliament adopted a law on providing assistance to the victims of the March 2008 postelection violence, and on September 5, the government allocated 720 million drams ($1.5 million) to assist victims and their families.
Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued at lower levels compared with previous years. Recurrent shooting caused deaths, primarily to military members. Following the outbreak of violence in 2016, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time. The cases remained pending with the ECHR.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
According to police, 867 persons were missing as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, approximately 4,500 Azerbaijanis and Armenians remained unaccounted for as a result of the conflict.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Nevertheless, there were reports that members of the security forces continued to torture or otherwise abuse individuals in their custody. According to human rights lawyers, while the criminal code defines and criminalizes torture, the relevant provisions do not criminalize inhuman and degrading treatment. There were no convictions of officials for torture. According to government statistics, since the 2015 adoption of a new definition of torture in the criminal code, the prosecutor’s office submitted three charges of torture to the courts, resulting in one acquittal that was under appeal. A second case resulted in replacing the torture charge with that of exceeding official authority. The third case continued at year’s end.
According to human rights activists, impunity for past instances of police abuse contributed to the persistence of the problem, although to a lesser extent than observed prior to the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” Furthermore, observers contended that the failure to prosecute these past cases was linked to the lack of change in the composition of law enforcement bodies since the 2018 political transition, other than at the leadership level. Official sources noted that several Yerevan police stations and the Criminal Intelligence Division of the National Police had complete personnel turnover, but these were exceptions. For example, four years after an ECHR ruling found violations of the right to a fair trial and prohibition of torture in the case of Nalbandyan v. Armenia, no one had been held responsible as of year’s end for torturing the Nalbandyan family in the course of a 2004 murder investigation. According to an article published in the independent Epress.am on May 13, the torture case was reopened in 2017, but the prosecutor’s office later dropped it, despite the ECHR ruling and the Nalbandyans’ identification of three of their abusers: Vardan Harutyunyan, who was an assistant to the prosecutor in 2004 and subsequently became a Gegharkunik region trial court judge; Gagik Hovsepyan, the investigator of the case; and former Vardenis police chief Viktor Hakobyan.
There were reports of abuse in police stations, which, unlike prisons and police detention facilities, were not subject to public monitoring. Criminal justice bodies continued to rely on confessions and information obtained during questioning to secure convictions. According to human rights lawyers, procedural safeguards against mistreatment during police questioning, such as inadmissibility of evidence obtained through force or procedural violations, were insufficient.
For example, on April 8, reports appeared on social media that Yerevan resident Edgar Tsatinyan had died in a hospital after having been transferred from Yerevan’s Nor Nork Police Department, where he had been in custody. According to Tsatinyan’s family, police officers had beaten him to try to force a murder confession. When Tsatinyan refused, the officers allegedly said they would charge him for drug possession, after which Tsatinyan swallowed three grams of methamphetamine with which the officers intended to frame him. Tsatinyan died of a drug overdose in a hospital. A forensic examination found plastic packets in his stomach, traces of the drug in his blood, and injuries on his body. On April 15, the SIS opened a torture investigation, which continued at year’s end.
Lieutenant-general Levon Yeranosyan, the former chief of the internal police troops, faced charges of exceeding official authority committed with violence and leading to grave consequences for his role in the April 2018 violence against protesters. Yeranosyan’s trial continued at year’s end.
In May 2018 the SIS charged the commander of the Yerevan Police Department Escort Battalion, Armen Ghazaryan, with torture for his role in the 2017 police beatings of four members of the armed group Sasna Tsrer during an altercation. The defendants suffered cuts and bruises on their faces, heads, abdomens, backs, and legs in the beatings. At year’s end the investigation continued.
There were no reports regarding the scale of military hazing in the army and whether it constituted torture. On January 8, the Court of Cassation recognized the violation of conscript Artur Hakobyan’s right to freedom from torture. Hakobyan, who entered the army in 2015, was released from service early due to a mental disorder. According to his family and lawyer, Hakobyan was in good mental health before joining the army but experienced deep psychological trauma as a result of torture and abuse. Hakobyan identified his unit commander, Jivan Mkrtchyan, as his chief abuser. According to Hakobyan’s lawyer, following the Court of Cassation ruling, the Ninth Garrison Investigative Division of the Military Investigation Main Department of the Investigation Committee–the division that previously failed to investigate the reported abuse–reopened the investigation as a military crime (on charges of battery and inhuman treatment), not as a torture case. Consequently, the prosecution denied the motion to transfer the investigation to the SIS, the body that investigates torture. The Investigative Committee dismissed the investigation in May, citing lack of evidence, a decision overturned on appeal in October. The Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently appealed the court’s decision to compel an investigation.
In March 2018 the office of the ombudsman issued an ad hoc report on the situation in psychiatric institutions, noting violations of human rights. Shortcomings included legal gaps in regulating compulsory treatment, expired medication, inappropriate use of means of restraint, absence of mechanisms for urgent stationary psychiatric assistance, overcrowding, discrimination, inadequate housing and sanitary conditions, inadequate food, and other problems.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were marked by poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and predation by hierarchical criminal structures (“thieves-in-law”); the government made some progress in tackling corruption during the year; overcrowding was no longer a problem at the prison level but still existed at the cell level. Conditions in some cases were harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Prison Monitoring Group (PMG), a coalition of local NGOs, prison renovations that took place during the year had not resulted in major improvements for inmates. On September 5, the minister of justice, appointed in June, described the conditions of Nubarashen Prison, especially the first floor, as inhuman.
Human rights observers and the PMG continued to express concern regarding the physical conditions of Armavir Penitentiary. The prison did not have an air ventilation or cooling system. PMG monitors who visited the prison in the summer of 2018 registered temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit inside cells. According to the PMG, the ventilation and cooling system was removed from the original construction plan due to a lack of resources.
According to the PMG, impunity related to the deaths of inmates continued to be one of the most significant human rights problems in prison. There were no investigations into the circumstances of deaths due to illness, such as whether an illness was acquired due to incarceration or if the illness had been preventable or treatable. During the first nine months of the year, 15 inmates died, the same number as during the same period in 2018.
On January 26, Mher Yeghiazaryan, the deputy chairman of the Armenian Eagles: United Armenia Party, died at Nubareshen Prison nine days after ending a 44-day hunger strike. He also ran online media website Haynews.am. Yeghiazaryan died from a heart attack, according to the prison administration. His lawyer told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that his client may have survived if he had been taken to a hospital right after the hunger strike, adding that Yeghiazaryan did not receive adequate medical care at Nubarashen’s medical unit. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, Yeghiazaryan suffered from chronic heart disease. The office stated it urged law enforcement authorities to free him on bail for that reason. On January 16, a Yerevan court refused the bail request. The government launched an investigation into Yeghiazaryan’s death that continued at year’s end.
The Ombudsman’s Office and the PMG noted the need for better psychological services in prisons. According to the PMG, there was a shortage of psychologists on staff and hundreds of inmates in need of care. The PMG linked the absence of psychological care to numerous instances of self-mutilation and suicide. According to statistics published by the PMG, from 2011 to 2017, there were 27 suicides in prison. During the first nine months of the year, 446 cases of self-mutilation were registered in prison compared with 612 in 2018. The most self-mutilation incidents in 2019 were registered in Nubarashen, Vardashen, and Armavir Prisons. According to a September 4 media report, the Ministry of Justice penitentiary department twice refused the request of Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor to allow psychologists to visit persons serving life sentences. The reasoning given by the ministry was that it did not consider psychological assistance to be a medical service. According to an October 19 report by Hetq.am, 17 psychologists worked in the country’s 12 penitentiaries.
According to human rights organizations, an organized hierarchical criminal structure dominated prison life. According to observers, including the ombudsman, prison officials delegated authority to select inmates (called “watchers”) at the top of the informal prison hierarchy and used them to control the inmate population. Serious gaps in prison staffing both led to and exacerbated the situation. In December 2018 the Ombudsman’s Office published a Concept on Combating Criminal Subculture in the Penitentiary Institutions that identified a complex of measures that could be taken to eradicate the “Gulag-like” subculture from the penitentiaries.
According to a Ministry of Justice official, the government was implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards organized, hierarchical criminal gangs.
On November 28, the government approved the 2019-2023 strategy and implementation action plan on penitentiaries and probation. The strategy included plans for a major revamp of the penitentiaries, including capital renovations; shutting down those with the worst conditions, including Nubarashen; and prison construction. The strategy also envisages fighting corruption and the criminal subculture, as well as fostering inmate re-socialization.
Former inmates and many human rights observers raised the problem of corruption and bribery in the penitentiaries. According to the PMG, political will at the highest level to eradicate corruption in the penitentiaries had not yet been translated into institutional change. While corruption and bribery were no longer systemic, they continued to occur. For example, on September 18, Kosh Prison head Lyova Baghdasaryan was arrested and charged with taking a bribe.
Health-care services in prisons remained understaffed and poorly equipped, and there were problems with access to specialist care. There was also a serious shortage of medication. The PMG reported problems with accessibility, timing, and quality of the health care in penitentiaries, despite programs implemented to address those gaps.
Prisons lacked accommodations for inmates with disabilities.
According to the PMG and other human rights organizations, LGBTI individuals experienced the worst prison conditions. Prison administrators reinforced and condoned abusive treatment and held LGBTI individuals in segregated cells in significantly worse conditions. The PMG noted that homosexual men or those assumed to be homosexual, those associating with them, and inmates convicted of crimes such as rape, as well as those who refused to live by the “unwritten prison rules,” were segregated from other inmates and forced to perform humiliating jobs, such as cleaning toilets, picking up trash for other prisoners, and providing sexual services. Food preparation and cutlery for these prisoners was kept separate, they had a separate laundry machine, and even a separate solitary confinement cell. According to an April 10 report in Hetq.am detailing their life in prison, if an LGBTI individual did not declare his status when entering prison, he would face terrible abuse once cellmates learned of it.
Administration: Authorities routinely neither conducted credible investigations nor took action in a meaningful manner to address problems involving the mistreatment of prisoners, disputes and violence between inmates, or widespread corruption.
Convicts and detainees did not always have reasonable access to visitors due to the lack of suitable space for visitations. On February 11, the Constitutional Court, responding to an application by the ombudsman, found legal provisions establishing blanket restrictions on access to the outside world for detainees and convicts placed in isolation to be unconstitutional.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted domestic and international human rights groups, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, to monitor prison and detention center conditions, and they did so regularly. Authorities allowed monitors to speak privately with prisoners and permitted the ICRC to visit prisons and pretrial detention centers. In 2017 the minister of health established a civil society group to carry out monitoring of psychiatric institutions.
There were limits, however, to independent monitoring by domestic groups. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny PMG monitors access to those individuals in whose cases the investigation body had put a restriction on communication. The PMG was also unable to check the conditions of confinement for those individuals. The PMG asserted the restriction was arbitrary and that the investigation body’s decision should not apply to the PMG.
Despite changes to the early release program in 2018 that abolished independent commissions and transferred decision making on early release to the courts, with advice from the penitentiaries and the state probation service, observers continued to report problems, including arbitrary decision making. The PMG questioned the absence of clear criteria for early release as well as the opportunities available for prisoners to comply with criteria that do exist.
Improvements: As of year’s end, police had installed video cameras and audio recording devices at the entrances and exits of 10 regional police stations and the Yerevan police detention center as a pilot program.
The PMG reported improved water supplies in all prisons. In December 2018 the government allocated 270 million drams ($556,000) to the Ministry of Justice for correctional facility renovations. On September 5, the government allocated an additional 176.7 million drams ($370,000) for water and sewage system renovations and improvement of the living conditions of inmates at the Nubarashen, Abovyan, Kosh, and Hrazdan prisons as well as the Hospital for Inmates. According to information provided on July 29 by the Ministry of Justice to the PMG, in January the government had begun construction at Nubarashen Prison to renovate bathrooms, external and internal water supply networks, the internal drainage system, and electric lighting networks. According to the ministry, this renovation was a necessary short-term solution to prisoners’ urgent needs prior to the building of a new prison; some NGO experts questioned the expenditure.
According to a report by the Ministry of Justice and the Penitentiary Service, the following improvement works were in progress or finished during the year: the renovation of eight visitation rooms at Armavir Prison to bring them up to international standards; renovation of the external sewage system, bathrooms, and shower rooms at Abovyan Prison and Hospital for Inmates, including bathrooms and showers for persons with mobility problems; and renovation of the cafeteria at Kosh Prison and the external sewage systems at Hrazdan and Nubarashen Prisons.
In a separate development, the Ministry of Justice Center for Legal Education and Rehabilitation Programs resumed secondary education to inmates younger than age 19 at Abovyan, Nubarashen, and Armavir Prisons. The provision of secondary education in prisons had been suspended since 2015.
To improve the quality of food provided at penitentiaries, the Ministry of Justice conducted a pilot project that entailed contracting out prison food services. On October 15 and 16 at Nubarashen and Armavir prisons respectively, implementation of the 70-day pilot projects began.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. There were fewer reports of arbitrary arrest during the year compared with past years.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law an investigative body must either arrest or release individuals within three hours of taking them into custody. Within 72 hours the investigative body must release the arrested person or file charges and obtain a detention warrant from a judge. The law requires police to inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or arrest as well as their rights to remain silent, to legal representation, and to make a telephone call. Bail was a legal option. According to human rights lawyers, following the “Velvet Revolution,” courts were initially less likely to apply pretrial detention, opting for other preventive measures such as bail and signed undertakings not to leave the country. During the year, however, observers noted courts’ increasing tendency to fall back into the previous practice of applying pretrial detention, with suspects bearing the burden of proof to demonstrate they did not present a flight risk or would not hamper an investigation. According to government statistics, in the first nine months of the year, trial courts rejected 10 percent and 3.5 percent of the requests for detention and extension of detention, respectively, compared with 4.4 percent and 16.7 percent during the first nine months of 2018. During the first nine months of the year, trial courts approved only 16.4 percent of requests for release on bail, compared with a 19.1 percent approval rate during the first nine months of 2018.
Defendants were entitled to representation by an attorney from the moment of arrest, and the law provides for a public defender if the accused is indigent. According to human rights observers, few detainees were aware of their right to legal representation. Observers indicated police at times avoided granting individuals their due process rights by summoning and holding, rather than formally arresting, them, under the pretext that they were material witnesses rather than suspects. Police were thereby able to question individuals without giving them the benefit of a defense attorney.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were several reports of arbitrary arrest during the year. For example, the Helsinki Association for Human Rights questioned some of the detentions carried out by police on July 18 in Ijevan, when they arrested individuals suspected of clashing with police earlier in the day during demonstrations against the government’s decision to prohibit illegal logging. The individuals were taken to police stations in the middle of the night, sometimes wearing only their underwear. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, those detained in Ijevan claimed that police had not informed them of the reasons for their detention, and their families did not know their whereabouts until hours later, when they were brought to Yerevan.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a chronic problem. According to the government, as of October 1, approximately 45 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. Some observers saw investigators use excessive pretrial detention as a means of inducing defendants to confess or to reveal self-incriminating evidence.
Although the law requires prosecutors to present a well reasoned justification every two months for extending pretrial custody, judges routinely extended detention on unclear grounds. Authorities generally complied with the six-month limit in ordinary cases and a 12-month limit for serious crimes as the total time in pretrial detention. Once prosecutors forward their cases to court for trial, the law does not provide time limits on further detention but indicates only that a trial must be of “reasonable length.” Prosecutors regularly requested and received trial postponements from judges. Prosecutors tended to blame trial delays on defense lawyers and their requests for more time to prepare a defense. Severely overburdened judicial dockets at all court levels also contributed to lengthy trials.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to legal experts, suspects had no practical opportunities to appeal the legality of their arrests. In cases where the courts ruled on a pretrial detention, another court was unlikely to challenge its ruling.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence and impartiality. After the 2018 political transition, popular distrust in the impartiality of judges remained strong, and NGOs highlighted that the justice sector retained many officials who served the previous authorities. Corruption of judges remained a concern. During the year NGOs stressed that many judges had acquired significant amounts of property and assets that were disproportionate to their salaries and noted that the absence of vetting of judges based on objective criteria–particularly of those in the Supreme Judicial Council and Constitutional Court–undermined the integrity of the judiciary.
On May 19, in an apparent reaction to the release of former president Robert Kocharyan from detention by a Yerevan court, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on his supporters to block access to courts throughout the country, a move questioned by some observers as pressuring the judiciary. On May 20, Pashinyan called for extensive judicial reform, including the vetting of judges, saying that he believed the judicial system was subject to shadowy and illegal influences due to its continued ties to the prior, corrupt regime. He also called for the resignation or firing of judges whose rulings significantly violated human rights according to ECHR rulings or who were not prepared to rule independently.
On September 27, two young men accosted trial court judge Anna Danibekyan, verbally attacking and insulting her while transmitting the incident live via Facebook. Danibekyan presided over the case against former president Kocharyan and others. The Supreme Judicial Council issued a statement condemning the harassment and pressure to undermine her independence and professional activity. Media reports identified the culprits, Sargis Ohanjanyan and Narek Mutafyan, as Kocharyan supporters. Police arrested both men on charges of interfering with the activities of the court.
According to observers, administrative courts had relatively more internal independence but were understaffed and faced a long backlog.
The Judicial and Legal Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 approved on October 10 aimed at increasing public trust in the judiciary and the justice system and strengthening judicial independence.
Authorities generally complied with court orders.
NGOs reported judges routinely ignored defendants’ claims that their testimony was coerced through physical abuse. Human rights observers continued to report concerns regarding the courts’ reliance on evidence that defendants claimed was obtained under duress, especially when such evidence was the basis for a conviction.
The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right.
The law provides for presumption of innocence, but suspects usually did not enjoy this right. During trials authorities informed defendants in detail of the charges against them, and the law requires the provision of free language interpretation when necessary. The law requires that most trials be public but permits exceptions, including in the interest of “morals,” national security, and the “protection of the private lives of the participants.” Defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the law requires the government to provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside Yerevan.
According to the law, defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and examine the government’s case in advance of a trial, but defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses or police, while courts tended to accept prosecution materials routinely. In particular the law prohibits police officers from testifying in their official capacities unless they were witnesses or victims in a case. Judges were reluctant to challenge police experts, hampering a defendant’s ability to mount a credible defense. Judges’ control over witness lists and over the determination of the relevance of potential witnesses in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Defense attorneys complained that judges at times did not allow them to request the attendance at trial of defense witnesses. According to lawyers and domestic and international human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the prosecution retained a dominant position in the criminal justice system. Human rights organizations reported there were insufficient provisions for prosecutorial impartiality and accountability and no objective criteria for the nomination and selection of candidates for general prosecutor.
Following the “Velvet Revolution,” many judges released suspects in politically sensitive cases from pretrial detention. According to human rights groups, because no other circumstances had changed in their cases, this was an indication that, before the April and May 2018 events, judicial decisions to hold those suspects in detention instead of allowing their release on bail were politically motivated.
Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right to appeal a court verdict and often exercised it. In an example of a trial that even the victim’s family deemed unjust to the accused, criminal proceedings–originally opened in 2013–against Karen Kungurtsev for the alleged killing of Davit Hovakimyan, continued following a Court of Cassation’s order in July 2018 to return the case to trial court and release Kungurtsev on bail. Kungurtsev was originally acquitted in 2015, but in 2017 the criminal court of appeal reversed the acquittal and sentenced him to seven years in prison. The victim’s family and the Helsinki Association for Human Rights continued to support Kungurtsev’s claim of innocence, asserting that Hovakimyan’s real killer was the son of an NSS official who had used his position to influence police and prosecutors to investigate Kungurtsev. During testimony on November 14, a key witness in the case apologized to Kungurtsev and the victim’s father for providing false testimony six years earlier under pressure from law enforcement officers and gave potentially exonerating testimony in support of Kungurtsev.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Although citizens had access to courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for alleged human rights violations, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt. Citizens also had the option of challenging in Constitutional Court the constitutionality of laws and legal acts that violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. According to lawyers, lower courts did not adhere to precedents set by the Court of Cassation, the ECHR, and the Constitutional Court. As a result lower courts continued to carry out the same legal mistakes.
Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal to the ECHR cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation but did not meaningfully review the cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts often did not follow the applicable ECHR precedent.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the rights to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Law enforcement organizations did not always abide by these prohibitions.
Authorities may not legally wiretap telephones, intercept correspondence, or conduct searches without obtaining the permission of a judge based on compelling evidence of criminal activity. The constitution, however, stipulates exceptions when confidentiality of communication may be restricted without a court order when necessary to protect state security and conditioned by the special status of those in communication. Although law enforcement bodies generally adhered to legal procedures, observers claimed that certain judges authorized wiretaps and other surveillance requests from the NSS and police without the compelling evidence required by law. By contrast there were no reports that courts violated legal procedures when responding to such authorization requests from the SIS, the Investigative Committee, and the State Revenue Committee.