Armenia’s Lie-Down Activist Claims Prison Abuse
Armenian dissident Vardges Gaspari, known for his practice of lying down to protest government policies, reportedly is facing torture in prison, according to Armenia’s human rights community. The authorities claim that the 59-year-old Gaspari has no complaints with his treatment.
Last week, when law-enforcement came to arrest him for reportedly defying police and a judge, Gaspari lay down. He lay down in court when he was put into custody and continued to lie down in his prison cell.
His lawyer, Tigran Yegorian, claimed that Gaspari was forced to go through a psychiatric check on February 24 and, earlier, had been beaten by his cellmates. Armenia’s Ombudsman Arman Tatoian has requested a clarification from the Prosecutor’s Office, Hetq.am reported.
Human rights groups and opposition politicians have condemned Gaspari’s arrest as politically motivated. “He was arrested for his political views, civil position and criticism of government bodies, in particular, law enforcement agencies,” said a dozen Armenian human rights organizations in a collective statement.
Armenia routinely denies that it contains any political prisoners.
Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian, though, admitted to parliament that Gaspari “had problems in his relations with other inmates," ArmeniaNow reported. She said he was first taken to a solitary cell and then an investigator on his case decided to conduct a psychiatric examination. Hovannisian said that Gaspari, who briefly went on a hunger strike, has not reported any health problems, but added that she would look into the torture report.
Critics saw the examination as a throwback to the Soviet-era practice of committing dissidents to mental institutions. Armenia has been criticized for an ongoing practice of committing people to psychiatric hospitals on spurious grounds.
The Ministry of Health maintains that reform of Soviet-era legislation that facilitates such actions is underway.