By Ruzanna Stepanian
A Karabakh war veteran convicted for pushing for a violent regime change claims the authorities have been using the penal code as a tool for taking revenge on politicians with opposition views.
Vartan Malkhasian, a senior member of the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers, was sentenced to two years in prison by a Yerevan lower court last week for calling for a “violent overthrow of constitutional order.”
In an interview with RFE/RL, Malkhasian, a lawyer by training, disputed the fairness of the application of the criminal charge against him.
Article 301 of Armenia’s criminal code envisages a fine or up to three years in prison for such an offense. Malkhasian says it is difficult to measure the gravity of the ‘public call’ to pass a commensurate sentence.
“It turns out that some calls are less dangerous than others. There is no explanation to this. My speech did not contain any calls for violence at all,” Malkhasian said. “I addressed my speech to those who defile the country and the criminal gangs. Neither of them can be considered as a state or constitutional order.”
Prosecutors had charged Malkhasian and group leader Zhirayr Sefilian with calling for a violent regime change in their speeches last December during the founding congress of their pressure group. The National Security Service claimed the two had planned to mount an armed uprising against the government ahead of the May elections to the National Assembly.
Sefilian, a Lebanese citizen who was a field commander during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, was later acquitted by court, but was found guilty of a lesser charge of illegal arms possession and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Malkhasian is convinced that he was imprisoned for his opposition views and for his activities as part of the movement opposing territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
“They have been looking for an occasion to take revenge on me, and that occasion suited them well,” Malkhasian told RFE/RL. “But we become even more adamant under this pressure.”
Malkhasian, who was once expelled from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) for dissidence, says the party whose two senior members were prosecuted on similar charges under the previous administration, should have raised their voice of protest against the persecutions.
“We hoped Dashnaktsutyun would struggle for justice, but when they came to power it turned out they were acting against their program,” Malkhasian said.
And Sefilian added: “I think all governments deny the presence of political prisoners. Dashnaktsutyun is part of this government and it is natural that they should deny it.”