By Tatevik Lazarian
An Armenian army soldier has been sentenced to one year in prison for retracting his incriminating testimony against an opposition activist arrested during the post-election unrest in Yerevan.
The activist, Arman Shahinian, was jailed for 18 months last summer for allegedly assaulting police officers during the March 1 break-up of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s non-stop demonstration in the city’s Liberty Square. The verdict in the case was based on a pre-trial deposition signed by Karen Hayrapetian, a 18-year-old resident of a village in central Armenia who prosecutors say witnessed the incident.
Hayrapetian claimed during Shahinian’s trial that he was tricked by the police into signing the testimony shortly before being drafted to the army on June 10. The court ignored his statements, endorsing the assault charges brought against the oppositionist.
Shortly afterwards, state prosecutors accused Hayrapetian of perjury, a charge punishable by up to two years in prison. The conscript went on trial in October, insisting that he could not have witnessed the post-election violence in Yerevan because he was in his village of Hartavan on March 1.
But this did not keep a district court in Yerevan from convicting the young man and giving him a 12-month jail term on Monday. He was arrested in the courtroom and taken to prison. Hayrapetian’s lawyer, Aghasi Atabekian, said on Thursday he will appeal the ruling.
The ruling came just one week before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is to decide whether to impose sanctions on Armenia over the continuing imprisonment of about 60 Ter-Petrosian loyalists. The PACE’s Monitoring Committee described them as “political prisoners” last month. Two committee representatives visited Yerevan last week to give the Armenian authorities the last chance to avoid the humiliating sanctions.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) condemned Hayrapetian’s imprisonment late Wednesday and said the authorities continue to defy the Council of Europe by “increasing the number of political prisoners.” “Through its puppet court, the regime has punished yet another disobedient citizen, raising the number of political prisoners to 60,” the HAK said in a statement.
Armenia’s state human rights obudsman, also expressed concern on Thursday, saying that he is inclined to believe in Hayrapetian’s innocence. “Our dealings with law-enforcement bodies give me reason to trust that lad more than the investigators,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “The fact is that he renounced that testimony. The question is why would he do that, knowing that he will go to jail as a result? Why?”
(Photo courtesy of Haykakan Zhamanak: Hayrapetian pictured with his mother outside the court.)