Over two dozen Iranian citizens serving prison sentences in Armenia have been sent back to Iran in what the Justice Ministry in Yerevan described on Monday as a gesture of goodwill.
Ministry spokeswoman Karine Kalantarian said the handover took place on Friday at the request of the Iranian government. She said the 24 convicts are to serve the rest of their sentences in Iran.
“More than 70 sentenced citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran were kept in Armenian penitentiary institutions until then,” Kalantarian added in a statement.
Many of them were apparently jailed on drug trafficking charges. Iran is believed to be the main source of drugs smuggled to Armenia.
The prisoner handover took place exactly one year after Armenian law-enforcement authorities reported their biggest-ever seizure of heroin which they said was smuggled by Iranian drug dealers through neighboring Turkey. One Russian and one Iranian nationals were arrested after police found seven kilograms of the Class A drug in their car.
Kalantarian said the Armenian and Iranian governments are now negotiating on and will soon sign an agreement on the repatriation of their nationals sentenced in each other’s country. The agreement will pave the way for the expulsion of the other Iranians remaining in Armenian prisons, she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
No Armenian citizen is known to be imprisoned in the Islamic Republic at present.
According to the Justice Ministry, more than 200 foreigners are currently kept behind bars in Armenia. Kalantarian said Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian would like to let them complete their jail terms in their respective home countries. She said the Justice Ministry is now trying to arrange their extradition through the Armenian Foreign Ministry and relevant foreign diplomatic missions.