Friday, 21 September

This is our country; we'll do whatever we want

"At one o'clock in the morning I went to the police department with a blanket - I wanted to give it to my son, to keep warm. They wouldn't let me in, so I stood outside by the wall, listening to my son screaming, and I couldn't do anything. Then some officers came out and sent me away," recalls 73-year-old Emma Grigoryan, a resident of the village of Shahumian in Artashat, with tears in her eyes. On April 23, 2004 , her son Grisha Virabyan was arrested by the Artashat police, for participating in an opposition rally. He was beaten for five hours, then thrown into solitary confinement. Finally, on April 24 th , he was taken by ambulance to the hospital for surgery, during which his left testicle was removed.

45-year-old Grisha Virabyan is a history teacher in Shahumian, with two young daughters. He is a member of the board of the Peoples' Party of Armenia. Two years ago he was working in the prime minister's administration. Today, he is in the Artashat Hospital . Here is what he told us:

"They came after me some five times. I was in Yerevan ; I knew they were coming after me. I ran out of money, so on April 23 rd I came home, planning to go back to Yerevan . An acquaintance of mine, Rudik, who works for the Artashat police, came to our house and told me the chief of police wanted to talk to me. I said, 'Rudik, if I go, I'll have serious trouble'. And then I said that I was going to participate in the rallies anyway, so there was no sense in talking. But Rudik said that he had assumed the responsibility for taking me to the police station, and that they wouldn't arrest me, they just wanted to talk.

"I know many people in the police department. And one of my friends from Yerevan told me that if I was taken to the police, I should go directly to the chief and tell him I'm a member of the board of the People's Party. So I went with Rudik. He took me to the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Hovik Movsisyan. When I came in Hovik said: 'So Grisha, you want to overthrow the government? You lead people to the rallies, are you overthrowing the president?' I said it wasn't up to me to change the government. " 'Who did you take to the rally with you?' he asked. I said, 'No one.' But they knew that I had led people to the rally on foot.

"Then he took me to the deputy chief of police, Garbuzyan. Rudik came with us. Garbuzyan asked, 'Why are you making noise? Why were you shouting in the hallway?' I said, 'I didn't even talk in the hallway, I didn't make any noise.' He said, 'Now you're talking crap.' He turned to Rudik: 'Charge him and put under arrest.' Rudik refused, and they took me to the office across the hall. Rudik told me that he had assumed the responsibility to bring me here and he would not institute proceedings against me even if they dismissed him from his duty.

"They called in another officer, Arsen. He said: 'Grisha, I was told to draw up a statement of the case against you'. I said: 'Go ahead but I will not answer any questions. I will only tell you that I'm university educated'. I said that so they would know I wasn't a common criminal. Somebody called Arsen, and he said that I was refusing to answer questions. I didn't answer any questions; indeed, I felt that they were trying to fabricate a case against me.

"Then the chief of the criminal investigations department, Hovik Movsisyan, came in using foul language and said: 'This is our country, we'll do whatever we want. You won't accomplish anything; come to your senses'. I said, 'Hovik, you know me. Watch your tone, quit cursing.' He swore at me again, came up and kicked me, and punched me in the face twice. My self-defense reflex kicked in and I grabbed a cord lying on the table and hit him back - it turned out to be a cell-phone charger and it hit him under the eye. He grabbed his eye and said, 'Ow! What have you done?'

"At that moment, officers from the criminal investigations department rushed in and took me to another room. Then Hovik and another officer, Armen, came in. Armen is notorious in Artashat for brutality - when they catch somebody, he does the beating. They both began to beat me. They were hitting me in my sides. I didn't say a word. I thought, let them do the beating and calm down, get it over with. Hovik and Armen beat me for ten minutes. Then Hovik left and Armen continued the beating; he kicked me between my legs, in my sides and kidneys. I had a terrible pain in my side.

"Armen left, and in came the deputy chief of the department, Ashot Karapetyan. He spat at me and said, 'You bums, what do you want? You can't ever change this country.' I was wearing sneakers, and he stomped on my toes with his heels. He sent everybody out and stayed with me, alone. I asked him not to hit my side. But he was hitting my sides. I felt bad, it was very painful. I wasn't doing anything; I thought if I did something, they would kill me. I was trying to soften the blows with my hands. He was hitting me with his knee, and he had a bunch of keys in his hand and he was using this hand to punch me in the side and between my legs. When he saw I was trying to block his punches, he called other guys and told them to handcuff me. They handcuffed me - my hands behind my back. Then he left and they called an ambulance to check whether I was drunk.

"The paramedics came in and one of them made a funnel out of paper and told me to blow into it. I did, and she said I wasn't drunk. I told her I felt bad, but they didn't let her help me. They called in the chief of traffic inspection, Avetik Harutiunyan. He knows me, we call him Avo. He brought an ampoule for testing for alcohol. My hands still handcuffed, he told me to blow and said, 'You are drunk.' I said, 'Avo, I'm not drunk'. He hit me in the forehead with his fist. I repeated three times that I wasn't drunk, and he punched me three times. Then he kicked me between the legs and left.

"They beat me the whole time it took for the chief of the criminal investigations department to go to Yerevan , get two stitches under his eye, and come back. They beat me from 8 p.m. on April 23 rd till 1:30 a.m. on April 24 th . When the department chief came back, he saw that I was in very bad shape, I was passing out, but nobody would help me. Then one of the officers, Manvel Baghdasaryan, loosened the handcuffs. I asked for some water, and he helped me drink and asked what else I needed. I asked him to spray water on me, and after he did I came to my senses. He told me that the device hadn't shown the presence of alcohol.

"Then the deputy chief of the investigations department, named Romik (he knew me, too) came in and told me to sit down. I said I couldn't. He took off my handcuffs. I said, "You're going to have trouble,' and he said that was OK. Then they told me that an investigator from the prosecutor's office had come to take my statement. But I wasn't able to give it. Then the chief of the police department came in and asked, 'Are you drunk?' I said, 'No'. He said that the statement said I was.

"I told him my side hurt and asked him to send me for X-rays. They took me to the hospital. Doctor Robert Liloyan examined me, but didn't do anything. He called the police department, I don't know what they told him, but he gave me a paper stating that there was no threat to my health.

"They took me back to the police station and put me in a solitary cell. I was screaming for three hours in the solitary cell, nobody reacted. Then I got down from the plank bed and crawled up to the door and pounded on the door with my feet. The duty officer came in and I told him I was feeling very bad and asked him to call a doctor. The same ambulance came-the doctor gave me an analgesic injection and I fell asleep. In the morning I started screaming again, from the pain.

"They called an ambulance and took me to the hospital. Since they had pressed charges against me, after the surgery, they changed the preventive punishment, and told me promise in writing not to leave town. They know me well, and now they're asking me not to complain," Grisha Virabyan concludes his story.

"I live near the police department," says Grisha's uncle, Sashik Virabyan. "I went there to find out how he was doing, took cigarettes and some food. They told me he wasn't there. I asked to see the chief of police, but they told me that he wasn't there either."

We spoke to Doctor Garik Hambardzumyan, the urologist who operated on Grisha at the Ashtarak Hospital . He explained, "After consultations with other doctors, we decided to perform a resection of the left side of the scrotum to treat the hemorrhage. But blood clots came out of the testicle. We inspected the testicle, and found out that its blood supply had been cut off; there was no way to save it. There were doctors from Yerevan there as well. The rear wall of the testicle was completely torn, 400 grams of blood clots came out. There was no living cell. It was completely smashed and eroded."

According to the doctor, it is theoretically possible that an injury like that could be the result of one blow. But it the bruises on Grisha's body, and his cracked rib, tell a very different story. The police have yet to comment on the incident, or issue an official statement.

Photos byOnnik Krikorian

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