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The investigation of the 1999 murder of the prime minister, Vasken Sarkisyan, and seven others in the Armenian parliament dominated the political scene in 2000, with fierce accusations of bias. Infighting among government officials over the investigation sapped efforts to address the country's stagnating economy and poor human rights record.

The military procuracy led the investigation of the October 27, 1999, shootings in the parliament. The arrest of a member of President Robert Kochariyan's staff, Aleksan Harutunyan, prompted accusations that the military procuracy investigators, allied with associates of the former prime minister, were attempting to use the investigation to implicate and oust the president. Charges against Harutunyan were later dropped.

President Kochariyan struggled to maintain his grip on power, coopting some senior government officials who had been linked to the slain prime minister, while reshuffling others. In May, the minister of defense was replaced with a close Kochariyan associate, Serge Sarkisyan.

Some of the suspects detained during the investigation said they were ill-treated in custody. Detainees were also reportedly denied access to lawyers and family members. Nairi Hunaniyan, the chief suspect in the shootings, retracted testimony he said he was coerced into signing after being physically abused, and on July 25 denounced his state-appointed lawyer. Armenian National Television Deputy Director Harutiun Harutunyan also stated that he was subjected to physical abuse while in detention. Harutunyan was arrested in January after being accused of participation in the crime, but later released.

On March 22 several gunmen attempted to assassinate Arkady Ghukasian, who held the title of president of the ethnic Armenian separatist Nagorno Karkbakh region in Azerbaijan. After the attempt, a number of individuals were arrested, including the enclave's former defense minister, Samvel Babayan, his brother Karen Babayan, and several of Babayan's bodyguards. Babayan and other defendants reported that they were physically abused in custody and deprived of access to lawyers. On March 28, Nagorno Karabakh authorities ordered journalist Vaghram Aghauaniyan to serve one year of imprisonment for libel after dubious proceedings in which Aghauaniyan alleged he was denied the right to call witnesses.

Although newspapers in Yerevan reprinted Aghauaniyan's article alleging misconduct on the part of the Nagorno Karabakh prime minister, Armenia lacked a vigorous independent press. A record of physical assaults on journalists for which the government had failed to bring perpetrators to account, as well as spurious libel suits, had fostered a climate of self-censorship among journalists. On June 6, journalist Vaghan Gukasiyan said that he was summoned to the Ministry of Interior and severely beaten by Hrach Harutunyan, head of the criminal investigation department, in retaliation for a paper he wrote that was critical of Harutunyan and the investigation into the October 1999 parliamentary shootings. On July 8, local authorities reportedly removed copies of Azg newspaper from newsstands because it contained an article critical of them.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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