The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Azerbaijan guilty of brutally torturing an Armenian man who died in Azerbaijani captivity more than nine years ago.
Manvel Saribekian, a 20-year-old resident of an Armenian village very close to the Azerbaijani border, was detained after crossing into Azerbaijan in September 2010.
Azerbaijani authorities paraded Saribekian on national television, saying that he was trained by an Armenian commando unit and sent to Azerbaijan to carry out terrorist attacks. Saribekian’s family strongly denied the allegations, insisting that he accidentally crossed the border while grazing cattle.
Saribekian was found hanged in a Baku detention center in October 2010. Azerbaijani officials claimed that he committed suicide.
The young man’s body underwent a forensic examination after being handed over to Armenia. Law-enforcement authorities in Yerevan concluded that he was tortured to death.
Saribekian’s parents filed an appeal in the ECHR in the following months. The Strasbourg-based court ruled in their favor in a verdict announced on Thursday.
“The Court found in particular that the applicants had made a prima facie case that their son, Manvel Saribekian, had died as a result of the violent actions of others, notably personnel at the Military Police Department in Baku, where he was being held,” the ECHR said in a statement.
“It could not accept the Azerbaijani authorities’ version of events that he had hanged himself,” it said. “Furthermore, Azerbaijan had not provided any evidence to question Armenian forensic findings on injuries suffered by Mr Saribekian before his death, including signs of beating and a head trauma, ill-treatment which had to be classified as torture.”
“The Court took account of the Armenian forensic examination, which apart from strangulation injuries, had recorded kidney, chest, lumbar, thigh and rectal hemorrhages as well as a head injury, all caused by a blunt object … The Court thus found that Mr Saribekian had been subjected to ill-treatment in the form of severe physical violence during the final days of his life,” added the statement.
The ECHR also ordered the Azerbaijani government to pay the victim’s parents 60,000 euros ($66,000) in damages. Baku can appeal against the ruling in the ECHR Grand Chamber.
Saribekian’s mother, Siranush Balian, struggled to hold back tears when she commented on the ruling by phone. “They killed him, it’s all lies,” she said, referring to the Azerbaijani claims.
Saribekian is not the only Armenian civilian who died after straying into Azerbaijani territory in similar circumstances.
Karen Petrosian, a 33-year-old resident of another Armenian border village, was pronounced dead in August 2014 one day after being detained in an Azerbaijani village across the border. The Azerbaijani military claimed that he died of “acute heart failure.”
The Armenian authorities believe, however, that Petrosian was murdered or beaten to death. The United States and France expressed serious concern at Petrosian’s suspicious death and called on Baku to conduct an objective investigation.
Another villager, the 77-year-old Mamikon Khojoyan, died in May 2015 three months after being detained on the Azerbaijani side of the heavily militarized border. Doctors in Yerevan said he suffered serious injuries during his month-long captivity.
At least one Armenian national is known to be currently held in an Azerbaijani prison. Karen Ghazarian, a 34-year-old resident of the Tavush province bordering Azerbaijan, was captured in July 2018.
In February 2019, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Ghazarian to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist attacks and “sabotage” in Azerbaijan. His trial was reportedly held in closed session.
Yerevan condemned the ruling and demanded Ghazarian’s immediate release. It insists he has a history of mental disease and never served in the Armenian army because of that.