By Shakeh Avoyan
A Yerevan court convicted on Monday four Armenian citizens of Russian descent of espionage in favor of Azerbaijan, sentencing them to long prison terms despite their strong denial of the treason charges.
The toughest punishment, 15 years’ imprisonment, was given to Nina Shilina who prosecutors allege led a spy ring made up of her close relatives. Her husband, Edgar Filkov, got 13 years while his brother Aleksandr Gasparian and cousin Ivetta Filkova 10 years each. The four residents of the southeastern Armenian town of Yeghegnadzor were arrested in August 2002 and put on trial eight months ago.
The trial judge, Gayane Karakhanian, said the prosecutors have substantiated their claims that Shilina had been recruited by Azerbaijani intelligence in Georgia in 1993 and used her relatives for regularly providing the latter with Armenia-related information. Karakhanian also found her guilty of planning a bomb explosion in a Yerevan hotel that was allegedly foiled in May 1993.
The defendants denounced the ruling as unfair and said they will appeal. They also alleged numerous violations of the due process of law during both the trial and a highly confidential criminal investigation that preceded it.
“I am confident [of acquittal] because there hasn’t been a single piece of evidence submitted by the prosecution,” Shilina told reporters after the announcement of the verdict. She appealed to human rights groups as well as Armenia’s Russian community and the Russian embassy in Yerevan to voice their support for her case.
While denying the espionage and terrorism accusations, Shilina has admitted regularly traveling to Georgia and passing information on to Georgian-speaking individuals for the past decade. She says she thought they were representatives of a regional charity. She also insists that she only gave them Armenian newspapers and never had access to state secrets.
The three other defendants admitted to the charges during the pre-trial inquiry but retracted the testimony in the court last month, saying that it had been extracted under duress. Filkov in particular said he would have never testified against his wife in good faith. He announced on Monday a hunger strike in protest against the court ruling.
The court of first instance of Yerevan’s Kentron and Nork-Marash districts also convicted Shilina of stealing classified information about the Armenian military from Artur Oganezov, a senior officer at the Armenian army staff, when she visited his Yerevan apartment in 2000. Oganezov, whose wife was a friend of Shilina’s, was subsequently fired from his job and faced trial along with the ethnic Russian suspects. The judge sentenced him to 18 months in jail for “negligence.”
It is the first time that Armenian nations are jailed on charges of spying for Azerbaijan with which Armenia remains technically at war.