By Emil Danielyan
More than 30 Armenian convicts serving life sentences which they believe are unfair ended on Saturday their three-day hunger strike after meeting with representatives of two leading pan-European organizations, the Justice Ministry said.
The ministry spokesman, Ara Saghatelian, said that the 14 other life prisoners at Yerevan’s high-security Nubarashen prison who refused food stopped the protest earlier.
The inmates, most of whom had initially been sentenced to death, began the hunger strike on Wednesday to renew their demands for being retried or given a chance to be set free earlier than is allowed by Armenia’s new criminal code. They also demanded a meeting with officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.
Representatives of the two organizations’ Yerevan offices met with the protesters at Nubarashen on Friday. One OSCE official said they will look into the lifers’ demands and will report to their superiors. “We gave no other promises,” she told RFE/RL.
The inmates claim that they were not convicted in fair trials and want local courts to review their cases under the new criminal code that abolished capital punishment in Armenia. They also object to a clause in the code that makes them eligible for parole only after they spend 20 years in prison, arguing that that the maximum jail term under the previous Soviet-era legislation was only 15 years.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also urged the Armenian authorities to re-examine their cases “as soon as possible.” Officials in Yerevan say that would require amendments to the criminal code that was passed by the Armenian parliament as recently as last April.
There are a total of 51 persons jailed for life in Armenia. Forty-two of them had originally been sentenced to death but had their punishment commuted to life imprisonment by President Robert Kocharian last August.