By Emil Danielyan
The controversial imprisonment of several Armenian opposition activists may have been too harsh, but it was not completely unfounded, the head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Wednesday.
“The principle of proportionality [of a crime and punishment] has been violated in some cases, but we see no cases of absolutely innocent individuals jailed for nothing,” Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin told RFE/RL.
Over the past two months six persons have been sentenced to between 9 and 18 months in prison on criminal charges stemming from their participation in last spring’s campaign of opposition demonstrations against President Robert Kocharian. One of them, Edgar Arakelian, got 1 ½ years in jail for hurling a plastic bottle of mineral water at a police officer during the violent break-up of the April 12-13 demonstration in Yerevan. The sentence was upheld by an Armenian appeals court last week.
Another oppositionist, Lavrenti Barseghian, faced the same punishment on a dubious drug charge following a 10-day “administrative arrest” related to his participation in the Yerevan protests. Three other men were jailed for clashing with plainclothes police that apparently tried to disrupt an opposition rally in the country’s second city of Gyumri in March.
All of these individuals have been declared “political prisoners” by local human rights groups. In a joint June 24 statement also signed by several prominent public figures, they warned of the Armenian judiciary’s transformation into “an instrument of repression and an executioner of freedom.”
Pryakhin, whose office successfully lobbied the Armenian authorities to release several, more high-level oppositionists earlier, acknowledged that Arakelian’s punishment was too harsh but said both he and the other detainees broke the law. “There are just no cases where people sit in jail for nothing in Armenia,” he said. “There are individuals sentenced in a legitimate judicial manner.”
Pryakhin rebuked in this regard another oppositionist who hit one of the police officers in the southern town of Artashat that apparently subjected him to severe beating in custody last April. Grisha Virabian, a local leader of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia, needed urgent surgery after several hours of police interrogation and had one of his testicles removed as a result. But Virabian himself could end up in jail for assaulting a “state official performing his duties.”
“He also hit a police officer, he hit him hard, causing injuries,” Pryakhin argued. “Believe me, we don’t want to say who is right in a brawl. We are against brawls in general.”