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Radical Oppositionist Wins European Court Case


Armenia - Opposition activist Zhirayr Sefilian at a news conference in Yerevan.

Armenia - Opposition activist Zhirayr Sefilian at a news conference in Yerevan.

The European Court of Human Rights has fined the Armenian authorities 6,000 euros ($7,700) in connection with the 2006 arrest and prosecution of a prominent nationalist activist bitterly opposed to them.

Zhirayr Sefilian, a Lebanese citizen who settled in Armenia over two decades ago, is due to receive the financial compensation more than four years after completing a two-year prison sentence given for allegedly illegal arms possession.

Zhirayr Sefilian and another well-known veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war were arrested in December 2006 after holding the founding congress of their Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), a pressure strongly opposed to any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. Armenia’s National Security Service claimed they planned to mount an armed uprising against the government ahead of the May 2007 parliamentary elections. Both men denied the charges as politically motivated.

Sefilian was cleared of the coup charge during his subsequent trial. But he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally possessing a pistol which he claimed to have received as a gift from a former commander of the Karabakh Armenian army.

In a verdict announced this week, the European Court of Human Rights court ruled that Sefilian was kept under pre-trial arrest for eight months without sufficient legal grounds. It said the NSS also wiretapped the oppositionist’s phone conversations in the months leading up to his arrest, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sefilian’s lawyer, Vahe Grigorian, portrayed the ruling on Wednesday as further proof that the Armenian authorities handled the case with “disgraceful violations” of the due process. Grigorian said former Robert Kocharian must bear “political responsibility” for ordering his client’s arrest.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), the lawyer said he will also appeal to President Serzh Sarkisian and state prosecutors to sack law-enforcement officials who dealt with the case.

Sefilian supported former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election. The HKH was among about two dozen opposition groups that joined an opposition alliance set up by Ter-Petrosian after the election. Sefilian broke with that alliance and formed a new opposition group, the Sardarapat movement, in 2009. The small group stands for more radical methods of political struggle.
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