An Armenian opposition activist was set free on Thursday after completing a controversial prison sentence stemming from Armenia’s 2008 presidential race.
Zhora Sapeyan, his brother Mkrtich, the latter’s son Andranik and another young resident of the central town of Talin were prosecuted in connection with a violent incident that marred a January 2008 campaign rally held there by Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition presidential candidate. They were charged with beating a government supporter who heckled Ter-Petrosian.
They all denied the accusations, saying that the incident was the result of a government “provocation.” Nonetheless, a local court convicted and sentenced them to between 18 and 30 months’ imprisonment in April 2008. The harshest sentence was given to Zhora Sapeyan.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) has regarded the four men and dozens of other oppositionists jailed after the February 2008 presidential election as political prisoners. Sapeyan’s release reduced to at least 12 the number of HAK members remaining behind bars.
Sapeyan was greeted by a large group of fellow oppositionists as he walked out of a prison in Artik, another small town about 40 kilometers north of Talin. “I am proud of being a son of this spirited people,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“I have fought and will fight, regardless of whether I will be at large or in jail. I will stand by my comrades so that you, your children live in a happy and free Armenia,” he said.
The oppositionist added that he hopes to have his imprisonment declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
Sapeyan already won a court case in Strasbourg in January 2009 after he and two other opposition supporters protested against being detained and fined for their participation in a 2003 anti-government demonstration in Yerevan. The European Court ordered the Armenian government at the time to pay each of them 3,000 euros in compensatory damages.