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A man serving a lengthy sentence in Armenia’s largest prison has cut off one of his fingers and two other inmates have sewn their mouths shut in desperate protest against prison conditions and punishments given to them.

Karen Taroyan sent his chopped little finger to an Armenian online media outlet on Thursday along with a letter that was also signed by three other men kept at Yerevan’s Nubarashen jail. The Henaran.am publication was quick to post the pinky’s photograph of its website, causing a stir in the media and online social networks.

The letter said that the four men went on hunger strike early this week and are taking more extreme actions to end the prison administration’s “neglect” of their demands. Representatives of Armenia’s Office of the Human Rights Defender visited them later on Thursday.

According to Ruben Martirosian, a senior official at Ombudsman Karen Andreasian’s staff, Taroyan, who had been sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment for manslaughter, wants to be taken back to another prison located near his hometown, Hrazdan.

“He used to serve his sentence there,” Martirosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “He argued that members of his family are in a difficult financial situation and can’t afford to visit him here [at Nubarashen.]”

Another protesting prisoner, Serob Mkhitarian, is serving a 6-year sentences that was given to him for theft. He told the ombudsman’s representatives that he sewed his lips together because the Nubarashen administration refused to transfer him to a hospital.

Mkhitarian’s mother Marietta said the 20-year-old has a history of mental disorders and is in urgent need of proper medical treatment. “I have been told [by doctors] that he is on the verge of schizophrenia and that if he doesn’t get treatment he will catch the disease irreversibly,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Mkhitarian said her son should have therefore not been imprisoned in the first place. “The real thieves are the ones who drive luxury cars,” she charged.

Vartan Demirchian, the other Nubarashen inmate with a sewn mouth, is awaiting trial on charges of throwing a hand grenade at a Yerevan nightclub this spring. Demirchian is only demanding that he be moved to another prison cell for unspecified safety reasons.

The letter, which was also signed by another hunger striker, Artur Khachatrian, alleged “lawlessness” at Nubarashen and accused the prison administration of being indifferent to their demands.

A Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prisons strongly denied this, saying that the protesters are resorting to “blackmail” to get milder punishments. A spokesman for the department, Gor Ghlechian, said at the same time that the prison authorities have launched an investigation into the inmates’ desperate actions.
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