Framed?: Political leader's arrest on drug charges have questionable foundation
By Vahan Ishkhanyan, ArmeniaNow reporter

ArmeniaNow.com
June 11, 2004

Human rights activists, an attorney, neighbors and relatives of a
Baghramyan political party head are charging that police in their
region "planted" illegal drugs in the leader's home, in order to
justify his imprisonment.

Lavrenti Kirakosyan, 44, has been in jail since April 10, since first
being arrested during a political demonstration at Yerevan's Opera
House. He was arrested for failing to obey a police order, however
court records do not say what that police order was.

Armenian police are often accused of planting evidence, and a retired
officer told ArmeniaNow that the practice is not unusual. In the case
of Kirakosyan, however, the allegedly false charges are believed to
be an attempt to discredit him for political reasons.

Kirakosyan's wife, Laura, is among those who believe he is being
framed. Kirakosyan is head of the National Democratic Union of
Baghramyan, one of several political parties that, over the past three
months, have staged demonstrations against the current government
administration and have called for the resignation of President
Robert Kocharyan.

The party head was sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention. He
did not have a lawyer. Two hours before he was to be released, the
court ruled to allow a search of Kirakosyan's premises, on allegations
that he was keeping weapons in his home that belonged to two Yezidies
who are accused of violence against the head of a village.

Kirakosyan testified that he did not know the men in question.

Police searched Kirakosyan's home. No weapons were found, but they
did turn up 59 grams of marijuana. A case has been initiated against
Kirakosyan for possession of illegal drugs, for which the sentence
on a guilty verdict could be up to three years.

Kirakosyan has retained an attorney, who says his client is being
framed.

Two residents of Kirakosyan's neighborhood who were brought along
on the first search as witnesses, say police coerced them to sign
a document verifying that the marijuana had been found in a water
heater on Kirakosyan' s premises.

"When they first entered the house they searched the water heater but
there was nothing there," Misha Shmavonyan, a neighbor who police
asked to witness the initial search, told ArmeniaNow. "Then they
searched different rooms and cowsheds. One policeman together with
Gevorg (another search witness) climbed onto the roof and searched
there. They found nothing. They returned to search this place (the
water heater) again.

"Gevorg said, 'Mr. Lazarian (deputy police chief), you have already
searched here,' but policeman said they would search it again."

On a second search, a white package was found. Inside the package
was 59 grams of marijuana.


Kirakosyan's brother-in-law shows were drugs were found. Shmavonyan
says that, although a plastic vase found in the same place was covered
with dust, the package containing the marijuana was not dirty - proof,
he believes, that it was put there just moments before police claim
they found it.

Police produced a protocol of the search, and demanded that the men
to sign it.

"Gevorg and I said 'Why should we sign? The first time you searched
there was nothing there.' But they told us two or three times to
sign. Then Gevorg signed and I signed."

Kirakosyan's sister, Gayane, says she saw police plant the package.

"They didn't let me enter the room. I was secretly watching through
the crack in the door," the sister says. "I saw a policeman going
upstairs, then he threw something. I said what did he throw? But I
didn't notice how he took it out."

Investigator Seyran Martirosyan refused to answer ArmeniaNow's
questions about the search.

After the search Kirakosyan was taken to Republican Narcological Center
where his urine was tested and found to contain traces of marijuana.

Chief of Laboratory of the Narcological Center Svetlana Minasyan,
who detected drugs in Lavrenti's urine, says he probably used drugs
before being arrested and that traces can last up to three weeks in
the blood system.

Kirakosyan's neighbors defend his innocence, saying that they've
never even seen him smoke cigarettes.

But the drug specialist says marijuana can be cooked and ingested in
food or by drinking as tea, as well as smoking.

Lawyer Vardan Zurnachyan says the day before taking a urine sample,
Kriakosyan was served cutlet and bread in the police department and
after eating he felt bad, threw up and felt dizzy. A doctor from
Baghramyan polyclinic came and gave him an injection.

Kirakosyan's relatives believe his illness was a reaction to marijuana
suffused into his food by police. They say either police put the drug
in his food, or else the test was faked.

"Drug addicts will never feel bad after using marijuana as they are
used to drugs," Minasyan says. "And if someone, who never used drugs,
eats them then I cannot say what can happen."

There is no answer to investigators' question whether Kirakosyan has
ever used drugs.

His sister says she watched through the door while police planted
evidence. His legal past, however, is not as clean as neighbors might
suggest are his living habits.

In 1996 Kirakosyan was accused of keeping a bomb in his apartment
and was sentenced to six months of imprisonment.

In 1998 he was once again convicted for inflicting bodily injuries
to his nephew (sister's son) with scissors, however, he was not
imprisoned. (His sister says he was set up by police on those charges,
too.)

Deputy Head of Baghramyan Police Department Perch Khachatryan refused
to comment on Kirakosyan's case. He would only say that Kirakosyan
had a previous conviction and that a policeman could not practically
hide 59 grams of marijuana on his person, as the package would be
too noticeable.

Lavrenti Kirakosyan graduated from the Yerevan Polytechnic
Institute. He has three children, including a son in the army. For
a living, he breeds cattle.

Residents in his home of Karakert praise him as a community
leader. Some 1,500 have signed a petition calling for his release.

Kirakosyan was also arrested for 10 days during last year's
demonstrations against the presidential elections.

With the help of the head of the International Union of Armenian
Lawyers Tigran Ter-Yesayan, Kirakosyan sent an appeal to the European
Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg , France appealing an Armenian
court's decision on administrative imprisonment over last year's
arrests.

In the testimonies concerning the latest case Kirakosyan says:

"The head of Baghramyan police department told me, 'you didn't learn
how to behave and again went to a demonstration. That's why I put you
in prison for ten days.' After that they took me to Armavir court,
where the judge didn't listen to me and didn't talk to me. I was
ordered to leave the courtroom. Then I was invited again and told
they had sentenced me to 10 days of imprisonment."

It is mentioned in the testimony that after the search, the deputy
head of Baghramyan police department promised Kirakosyan to set him
free on condition that he would give up his political activities.

Misha Shmavonyan. "(Deputy Head) Lazarian said, 'I will tell the
head of police department that you have 100 percent promised to never
ever participate at any mass meetings and to give up your political
views and that you promised to inform us about everything that your
leaders are planning and talking about in the headquarters'."

The investigation on the drug charges has been completed and sent
to court.

"Consistent political persecutions are conducted against Lavrenti,"
says his lawyer, Zurnachyan, who has taken Kirakosyan pro bono. "He
is arrested as if he demonstrated disobedience of a policeman's demand.

"But his house is conducted in accordance with another case and finally
criminal charges are brought with a completely different accusation."

Zurnachayn says the police denied his request to examine the men
whose guns Kirakosyan was allegedly keeping.