By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s courts will begin next week shortening their past prison sentences in accordance with the new Criminal Code that envisages an overall softening of punishments for a wide array of crimes, officials said on Friday.
The passage of the new code by the parliament last April meant that the overwhelming majority of over 3,000 prison inmates in Armenia, convicted under the previous, stricter legislation, will be released earlier than they could anticipate. Some of them were jailed for offences that no longer lead to imprisonment and will therefore be set free soon.
“If the previous punishment was stricter than the new one, a particular case is to be reviewed by the courts of first instance,” said Hrachya Sargsian, chairman of the Armenian Union of Courts. But he made it clear that the new Criminal Code’s retroactive impact does not extend to the most serious crimes such as murders.
According to the Armenian Justice Ministry, which runs the nation’s jails, some 2,400 prisoners have already filed for the review of their cases. The head of the ministry’s prison department, Samvel Hovannisian, said the requests are being forwarded to the courts for consideration. He said the authorities will later process applications from 1,600 other individuals serving suspended jail sentences.
Another consequence of the new code is that the 42 death sentences handed down in Armenia since 1991 will be commuted to life imprisonment. Armenia has observed an unofficial moratorium on executions for the past 13 years and all but outlawed capital punishment with the code’s passage.
The lawmakers appended to it a special clause allowing the death penalty in exceptional cases, notably the 1999 terrorist attack on the parliament. However, the clause runs counter to Armenia’s membership commitments to the Council of Europe is expected to be scrapped later this year.