One of the two dozen Armenian opposition members and supporters remaining in jail was not granted amnesty because of possessing a mobile phone in breach of prison regulations, an opposition-linked human rights group said on Tuesday.
It also emerged that by contrast, the Armenian authorities have set free a government loyalist charged with shooting and killing another man in a dispute related to the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan.
The opposition backer, Roman Mnatsakanian, was arrested and sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment for allegedly assaulting police officers during the March 1, 2008 clashes in the capital between opposition protesters and security forces. The court ruling in the case was solely based on police testimony.
A presidential amnesty bill approved by the Armenian parliament in June mandated the immediate release of those oppositionists whose jail terms did not exceed five years and who had no record of “malevolent” prison offenses. Only two-thirds of about 50 supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian jailed following the February 2008 presidential election were freed as a result.
According to Vartan Harutiunian of the pro-opposition Committee to Protect Political Prisoners, the administration of Yerevan’s Erebuni prison informed judicial authorities that Mnatsakanian was subjected to disciplinary action on five occasions. “All five sanctions stemmed from possession of a mobile phone,” Harutiunian told journalists.
Although mobile phones are banned in Armenian prisons, many inmates, including government critics, commonly use them to communicate with their friends and relatives. Prison guards are believed to connive at the practice.
Harutiunian, who had spent eight years in Soviet labor camps as a political prisoner, believes that it is the guards, rather than prisoners, that should be punished in the first instance. “All banned objects ranging from narcotics to mobile phones enter penitentiary institutions only through prison employees,” he said. “Employees bring inmates mobile phones and then, when there is an order, they take disciplinary action against concrete prisoners.”
Harutiunian also claimed that Mnatsakanian did not qualify for parole because the former chief of the Erebuni prison had a “very strong antipathy” towards him. He said the Committee as well as opposition parliamentarian Larisa Alaverdian have sent letters to the current prison administration asking it to overturn the disciplinary measures taken against the young oppositionist.
In what many in Armenia will see as a vivid example of selective justice, the Armenian police confirmed on Tuesday reports that the amnesty has applied to a man prosecuted in connection with a deadly April gunfight in Yerevan. The man, Artur Sedrakian, reportedly shot dead another resident of the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district in a bitter dispute over their inclusion in the ruling Republican Party’s list of candidates for the May 31 polls.
A police spokesman, Sayad Shirinian, told RFE/RL that Sedrakian was set free because his actions were deemed disproportionate self-defense by police investigators. The corresponding article of the Armenian Criminal Code is covered by the amnesty law.