By Karine Kalantarian
Two senior members of the Armenian parliament met on Saturday with some of the 42 convicts whose death sentences were commuted to life terms on August 1, promising to look into their demands to be considered for parole.
Rafik Petrosian, chairman of the National Assembly's committee on legal affairs, and his deputy visited the Nubarashen high-security prison near Yerevan one day after the prisoners threatened to go on their second hunger strike this month. They indicated afterwards that they will likely propose legal amendments which would enable Armenian courts to retry the men who have spent years on the death row.
“They called for their cases to be reconsidered and wanted explanations about the implications of the presidential decree [commuting their death sentences],” Petrosian told RFE/RL. “In connection with their complaints, we must gather at the National Assembly, reach a common opinion, and submit proposals to the speaker.”
Under Armenia’s new criminal code which abolished the death penalty, individuals sentenced to life imprisonment can appeal for parole only after spending 20 years in prison, a provision resented by the prisoners. They argue that the maximum jail term set by the previous, Soviet-era code was only 15 years and that they should now be treated accordingly.
“I don’t want to agonize in prison for the rest of my life,” one of them, Armen Ter-Sahakian, told an RFE/RL correspondent in his prison cell on August 8. “It’s a slow death. I prefer a quick one.”
Punishments for criminal acts envisaged by the new code are otherwise less strict and, according to Petrosian, can be applied to some of the protesting Nubarashen inmates. “The law allows them to ask the courts to bring their punishment into conformity with the new criminal code,” he said.
The code’s retroactive force has already led to the early release of hundreds of individuals convicted of less serious offences. The majority of some 3,600 prison inmates across Armenia are expected to walk free by the end of this year.
However, the new legislation does not allow the courts to retry the life prisoners. Some of them claim to have faced unfair trials and verdicts.
According to Suren Mamikonian, the head of the parliament’s legal department who accompanied the lawmakers at Nubarashen, corresponding amendments to the code may well be in the pipeline. Petrosian also hinted strongly at such a possibility. He said he will unveil his proposals by September 5.