At least 18 political prisoners faced criminal proceedings that appeared to fall short of international standards. There were numerous allegations of ill-treatment in custody and lawyers, opposition journalists and members of religious minorities were beaten by people alleged to have links with official structures. At least one person was sentenced to death and at least 13 others remained under sentence of death, but there were no executions. In January the Supreme Court upheld a six-month ban imposed on the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), for not complying with the law on political parties. Consequently the ARF was excluded from the July parliamentary elections, in which a majority of deputies elected were supporters of the policies of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. A new Constitution was approved, also in July, by referendum. It included basic rights and freedoms, including the right of access to a defence lawyer from the moment of arrest, detention, or presentation of charges. However, the death penalty was retained as "an exceptional measure of punishment" for "the most heinous crimes". In May, to mark the first anniversary of a cease-fire in the disputed Karabakh region (see Azerbaijan entry), a number of hostages and other prisoners detained during the conflict were exchanged. Those handed over by the Armenian side included Azerbaijani citizens Bakhtiar Shabiyev and Garay Nagiyev who had been sentenced to death in April 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). The Armenian authorities stated in May that the President had decreed that all Azerbaijani military and civilian prisoners held in Armenia would be returned to Azerbaijan. However, unofficial sources alleged that a few Azerbaijani prisoners continued to be held in private hands. Seventeen men who were arrested in connection with their alleged membership of a secret armed group named "Dro" within the ARF faced criminal proceedings that appeared to fall short of international standards for fair trial. They had been charged with various criminal offences from withholding information to premeditated murder (the latter carrying a possible death sentence). The trial of 11 of them began in July in Yerevan and was still continuing at the end of the year. Several of the defendants reported great difficulties in meeting freely and promptly with a lawyer of their own choice, and several of their lawyers reported problems in gaining full access to relevant case materials during the investigation. Similar problems were reported in the case of senior ARF member Vahan Ovanessian who was arrested in late July for allegedly planning an assassination campaign, although the Constitution adopted earlier that month guaranteed prompt access to a defence lawyer. No confessions by the 11 men on trial were ruled inadmissible by the court, in spite of defendants' allegations that they were obtained under duress. Arsen Artsruni alleged that he was beaten on three occasions to force a confession. Another of the original group arrested, Armen Momijan, was said to have suffered a broken jaw through ill-treatment. Ardavast Manukian, who had been due to stand trial, died in a Yerevan hospital on 16 May, reportedly from an intestinal tumour. It was alleged that he had been denied adequate medical care for several weeks before his death. Other reports of ill-treatment in custody in criminal cases emerged during the year, although alleged victims appeared reluctant to institute legal proceedings for fear of reprisals. Three lawyers linked with the so-called "Dro" case, several opposition journalists, and members of religious minorities were among those physically assaulted by people they believed had links with official structures. The incidents were reportedly not adequately investigated by the police and by the end of the year no one had been arrested for these attacks. In April, for example, 19 Hare Krishna devotees were beaten at their temple in Yerevan by a group of about 25 men, some in uniform. Eleven male devotees said they were beaten with iron bars: they needed hospital treatment. One, bleeding from a head wound, went to the local police station during the attack but was allegedly told that the police were short-staffed and that he should return later. The same man was also allegedly told by an investigator that the case would not lead to any prosecutions as those responsible were linked with the Ministry of Defence. Further information emerged on the criminal case instituted following the deaths of eight Azerbaijani prisoners in January 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). The Armenian authorities had alleged the men committed suicide after a failed escape bid during which an Armenian guard was killed, although an independent forensic expert reported that the pattern of their injuries suggested "execution-type shootings". The investigation focused on the death of the guard and, having determined that the Azerbaijani prisoners were responsible for his murder, the case was suspended in May 1994. There appeared to have been no comprehensive investigation into the circumstances of the deaths of the Azerbaijani prisoners. At least 13 men were believed to be under sentence of death at the end of the year, one of whom had been sentenced to death for murder in December. There were no executions, owing to President Ter-Petrosyan's personal opposition to the death penalty, but no death sentences were commuted. Amnesty International called for all detainees to be granted prompt and full access to a lawyer of their own choice, and for comprehensive and impartial investigations into reports of beatings and ill-treatment. In October Amnesty International delegates visited Armenia and met the Prosecutor General, who stated that defence access was guaranteed under the Constitution and that all allegations of ill-treatment brought to the attention of the Prosecutor's office had been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. Amnesty International continued to call for all pending death sentences to be commuted.

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