For three months, Goris police officers have turned Vagharshak Avetisyan`s life into a real hell, beating and torturing him one after another. Vagharshak Avetisyan, 20, had nothing else left to do than confess the crime he did not commit before a video camera.
10 years after his imprisonment, Vagharshak Avetisyan, a life-sentenced prisoner at Armavir Penitentiary, conveys the Forrights.am details of his case. He was threatened with rape by one of the Kapan police officers, who is now registered in a reserve. They tied up his feet and hands were tied up, threw him on the floor and threatened, if he did not accept the blame of the murder of a taxi driver, he would be raped.
“He told the driver to bring the rope from the car. The driver did. He tied it from my foot, then threw on my neck and then to my other foot and pulled the rope. Then he pushed me to the ground and bent down to lower my pants. He said, will you tell you killed him? I said, I will, I will…” he remembers with disgust.
In addition to physical abuse, policemen subjected him to brutal psychological pressures to extract confession. “There is so much information on videos on so many crimes in telephones of Gevorg Khachatryan and Goris`s operative Radik Bakunts that they ought to be not imprisoned for life but sentenced to death. He brought and showed me a video picturing how a person is handcuffed to a radiator and what they are doing: Understand me, I cannot describe verbally. And, after that, they… go to the bathroom on the guy. And, he told me they were going to do the same with me and send the video to the prison, and, after that, ‘I wish to see how you are going to survive in there’, he told me. I said I would write… how could I let them to rape me?” tells Vagharshak.
The 20-year-old boy was arrested on April 8, 2008. Vagharshak himself went to the Prosecutor`s Office. He had received a call and was told that he was suspected in a taxi driver`s murder. On the same day he was arrested and taken to Nubarashen penitentiary. In order to extract testimony, Vagharshak was illegally kept in the Goris division for three months. They did not allow him to call his family. The tortures of the local policemen did not produce any results: Vagharshak did not accept the charges against him.
“No man remained in the building who would not beat me. I`ve been asking to take me back to the prison. The Goris branch was a criminal gang at the time. People have been tortured and have been murdered there. The Chief of the Operative department told me: ‘Do you know how many people like you I have taken to the Arax river, shot them and threw into the river, telling that I shot them during their escape attempt? I will shot you too.’ The trial was held in the Erebuni district court of Yerevan.
During the court sessions, defendant Avetisyan`s right to fair trial was repeatedly violated. Substantial witnesses were not brought to court. A teenager has testified against him. As Vagharshak tells us, the boy was reciting a text he was given to memorize.
Vagharshak, who is sentenced to life, is convinced that if a professional prosecutor gets to be acquainted with his case, numerous violations would be revealed. “Let him hear the audio recordings of the court proceedings and see what was going on during the sessions. The judge was playing Tetris during sentencing a person to life imprisonment.”
He answers a firm “yes” to the question whether he is innocent and did not kill anybody. He accepts that he stole from the taxi driver with whom he and his friend were returning from Artsakh, and he did not return the money borrowed, but his hands are not soaked in blood. For the first two incidents he was sentenced to four years in prison and he has carried out that sentence. And currently he is in prison for a crime he did not commit—for a murder. The testimony obtained through torture and violence had to be recognized as unacceptable by the court. But the court ignored Vagharshak`s statements on violence. He received life sentence based on the testimony of one person, whereas no expertise had confirmed his connection with the deceased.
“Now I report a crime and demand that a criminal case be initiated. I will not give the witnesses names for their safety. If an investigator comes to me, I will tell details. There are people who will confirm my words,” says Vagharshak Avetisyan.
In 10 and a half years of imprisonment, with the rest of the lifers, he requires a review of cases. The previous government has not taken any positive steps. Starting August 1, Vagharshak was on a hunger-strike demanding a meeting with the Minister of Justice. On August 12, Minister Artak Zeynalyan visited “Armavir” Penitentiary and they had talked tête-à-tête.
“I asked Mr. Zeinalyan whether he believed that there were innocent people in prison. He said he believed. I asked, what was he doing in order to release those people? He said they were working on I; just 100 days have passed since the revolution, and the cases are still being investigated.”
Vagharshak has even met with the current Prime Minister, again, in prison. Oppositional MP Nikol Pashinyan has spoken face to face with him.
“He said you were right to fight, I myself have struggled for freedom and justice all my life, and I know what it is. Mr. Pashinyan said, fight, do not give up, we will fight with you. The only problem is that we have no political force to solve the question now, but I will raise your voice in the National Assembly. He kept his promise; he went to the National Assembly and announced our demands.”
Although the crime not committed has taken 10 years of Vagharshak’s life, he did not become an embittered person in the prison, did not become a criminal: “I remained a human being as I was before the prison. If I return to the society I will deal with people, they will know me as I am in reality, not as what they envisage a life sentenced prisoner ought to be.”
Once in freedom, what will he change in his previous lifestyle? To our question he replies with a smile: “I have changed. When I was young, I did not care much about anything. I did things and did not think about the consequences. Now I weight all my steps, look at the consequences.” He did not receive any penalties during the last eight years. “I cherish each second, I cannot wait long,” says Vagharshak.
On his third year in the prison Vagharshak Avetisyan married a Russian woman. He has great hopes of returning to the family: “I will celebrate the New Year in our home this year…”