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Judgment in Virabyan v. Armenia handed down by European Court of Human Rights

In its recent judgment in the case of Virabyan v. Armenia (Application no. 40094/05), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Armenia to have breached articles 3, 6 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).   Paul Richmond of Richmond Chambers, instructed by the Kurdish Human Rights Project, drafted both the initial application to the European Court and the response to the submission of the government of Armenia.

Facts of the Case

The facts of the case are that an Armenian national, Mr Grisha Virabyan alleged that he had been arrested and ill-treated as a result of his political opinion. In addition Mr Virabyan alleged that the manner in which the criminal proceedings against him had been terminated violated his right to be presumed innocent.

Mr Virabyan was a member of the People’s Party of Armenia (PPA) which was one of the main opposition parties in Armenia. As a member, Mr Virabyan was allegedly involved in a large number of mass protests and rallies in 2003 and 2004. On 23 April 2004, Mr Virabyan was arrested for allegedly carrying a firearm at a rally, earlier that month. Whilst under arrest at the police station, the police officers allegedly asked him a number of questions in relation to his political views.  Following this questioning, Mr Virabyan was then subject to severe beatings that included punching, kicking and being hit with metal objects. Mr Virabyan lost consciousness as a result. The Armenian police alleged that Mr Virabyan had become aggressive and had used foul language at the officers. They also alleged that he had attacked one of the police officers with a phone charger which resulted in the police intervening in the manner that they did, by way of defence. Mr Virabyan, understandably, took his complaint to the Prime Minister, General Prosecutor and the Heads of the National and Regional Police. A complaint was also lodged with the District Prosecutor, who ultimately dismissed it several days later. In September 2004, criminal proceedings against Mr Virabyan (for possession of a firearm and also assaulting an officer) were dropped. However the District Prosecutor did not drop the charges as a result of finding Mr Virabyan innocent, but rather dropped the charges on the basis that the “incurable injuries” received by him was punishment enough.

Mr Virabyan appealed the decision and was unsuccessful. This ultimately resulted in the case being brought to the ECtHR.

Decison of the European Court of Human Rights

Article 3

Article 3 enshrines the absolute prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is an absolute right, which means that there are no circumstances in which an authority can lawfully breach this right. The ECtHR held that there had been a violation of Article 3 and the Court raised some interesting points on the interpretation of injuries obtained whilst detained. The Court stated a view, that they had already previously expressed, that any recourse to physical force, which is not necessary, against a person who is deprived of their liberty, ultimately diminishes their human dignity and thus is an infringement of Article 3. The Court also stated that there would be a “strong presumption of fact” if injuries occured whilst detained.

Article 6

Article 6 states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing and that there is a presumption of innocence. The Court stated, quite clearly, that the language used by the District Prosecutor when dismissing the charges against Mr Virabyan, left no doubt that the he believed that Mr Virabyan had committed the offences alleged.

Article 14

Article 14 allows for the rights and freedoms of the ECHR to be enjoyed without discrimination. Mr Virabyan claimed that the manner in which he was detained, treated and then prosecuted was as a result of his political opinion and thus he had been discriminated against. The Court did not conclude that there had been discrimination in relation to the torture that Mr Virabyan suffered. This conclusion was reached on the basis that there simply was not sufficient evidence to prove this point.  However, the Court did believe that there had been political discrimination through the manner in which the Armenia authorities had investigated the breach of Article 3. The Court stated that the Armenian authorities had turned a blind eye to the allegation of politically motivated violence and had failed to investigate the matter using all reasonable steps.

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