European Court publishes judgement in Zalyan and Others v. Armenia case

Today the European Court of Human Rights published a judgment on the case of Zalyan and Others v. Armenia (application nos. 36894/04 and 3521/07). The case concerned the complaint by three former servicemen that they had been subjected to torture while performing their military service, being suspected of having murdered two other servicemen. One of the applicants also complained that he had been unlawfully deprived of his liberty.

In today’s Chamber judgment  in the case, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights as regards the applicants’ alleged torture;

a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the lack of an effective investigation into their complaints of having been subjected to torture; and

a violation of Article 5 §§ 1, 2 and 3 (right to liberty and security) in respect of one of the applicants, Mr Zalyan.

The Court considered that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the applicants’ allegations of having been tortured, largely as a result of the authorities’ failure to comply with the applicable procedural rules, under which the applicants would have had to be placed in a detention facility where they would have undergone a compulsory medical examination. At the same time, the Court found that the applicants had raised an  arguable claim of having been subjected to ill-treatment.

Contrary to their obligation to carry out an effective investigation, the prosecution authorities had failed to make any serious attempts to investigate those allegations.

As regards Mr Zalyan’s detention, the Court considered, in particular, that prior to 24 April 2004, he had been deprived of his liberty for the purposes of the criminal investigation while the alleged disciplinary penalty imposed on him had been only a formal pretext. As for the period from 24 August to 4 November 2004, there had been no court decision authorising his detention.

The applicants, Arayik Zalyan, Razmik Sargsyan, and Musa Serobyan, are Armenian nationals who were born in 1985 and live in Vanadzor and Gyumri (Armenia). According to the applicants, on 19 April 2004, while performing their military service on the territory of the unrecognised Nagorno Karabakh Republic, they were taken to the office of their military unit’s commander for questioning in connection with the murder of two servicemen in December 2003. The applicants maintain that they were beaten, threatened and verbally abused by law-enforcement officers in order to force them to confess to the murder. Subsequently they were taken to the military prosecutor’s office, where the ill-treatment continued before they were transferred to the military police department. During the next two days they were again questioned several times – officially as witnesses, although they were already being suspected of the crime – and they were continually beaten and threatened with the aim of extorting a confession. They were not allowed to eat or sleep, and were transferred between several law enforcement agencies blindfolded and handcuffed.

The Court held that Armenia was to pay Mr Zalyan 20,000 euros (EUR) and the other two applicants EUR 15,000 each in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

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