After weeks of resistance, prison authorities in Armenia allowed Sasun Mikaelian, one of few the opposition leaders remaining in jail, to undergo urgent treatment in a civilian hospital on Friday.
Mikaleian, who is serving an eight-year sentence for his alleged role in last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan, had been kept in a prison hospital since September. His condition reportedly deteriorated in recent weeks, prompting calls for his urgent release.
Two retired Armenian army generals joined those calls in an open letter to President Serzh Sarkisian earlier this week. The authorities insisted until then that the oppositionist’s condition is “satisfactory and stable.”
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Justice, Lana Mshetsian, told RFE/RL that his transfer to the Armenia Medical Center in Yerevan was recommended by prison doctors. Mshetsian said he will spend there only “several days” during which he will likely undergo “one uncomplicated operation.”
But Avetik Minasian, a senior doctor at the center, indicated Mikaelian will have to stay there longer. “Sasun Mikaelian suffers from problems with the respiratory tract,” he told RFE/RL. “More specifically, he has trouble breathring through the nasal area, headcaches of unknown origin and stops breathing in his sleep.”
The resulting lack of oxygen supply has caused the veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, who still has more than 60 pieces of shrapnel in his body, a “fairly serious heart problem,” said Minasian.
“The detailed examination will take at least five days,” added the doctor. “The recovery normally takes from two to four weeks.”
Mikaelian was escorted to the Armenia Medical Center by more than a dozen uniformed and plainclothes security officials at noon. They tried hard to prevent journalists from approaching and asking him questions.
Still, an RFE/RL correspondent did manage to briefly talk to the former parliament deputy. When asked how he feels, he said, “Very well.”
Mikaelian was said to have described his condition as “extremely bad” when he was visited by representatives of Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, last month. After the visit, Harutiunian asked the authorities to consider giving Mikaelian medical assistance in a civilian hospital.
Security officials tightly guarded the hospital building where he was being examined. Nonetheless, they allowed relatives and friends to visit him the oppositionist who actively participated in opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 presidential election campaign.
Among them was Miasnik Malkhasian, another prominent opposition figure who was arrested after the March 2008 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters. “His condition was so serious that they had to transfer him here,” Malkhasian told RFE/RL.
Mikaelian received a lengthier prison sentence than Malkhasian and dozens of other oppositionists and was therefore disqualified from a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities in June. He denied all accusations brought against him as politically motivated.