Armenian prison authorities will not give in to the demands of several detainees who went on hunger strike and severely injured themselves last week, Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian said on Wednesday.
One of the men kept at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison, Karen Taroyan, cut off his little finger and sent it to an Armenian online media outlet last Thursday along with a letter that was also signed by three other inmates. Two of them sewed their mouths shut in protest.
Taroyan, who is serving a 9-year prison sentence for manslaughter, is reportedly seeking his return to another prison located near his hometown, Hrazdan. Another convict, Serob Mkhitarian, claims to be suffering from mental disorders and wants to be transferred to a hospital. Vartan Demirchian, the other Nubarashen inmate with a sewn mouth, only wants to be kept in another prison cell for unclear reasons.
Tovmasian rejected these demands. He said that there is nothing unusual about prisoners in and outside Armenia cutting fingers and sewing their lips together. “Some of the people sewing their mouths already have holes [in their lips,]” he told journalists. “They are kind of used to doing that, just like girls wearing earrings.”
Tovmasian said Taroyan took the extreme action to prevent his impending transfer to a maximum-security prison near the southeastern town of Goris. “That person has been subjected to disciplinary action for 20 times,” he said, explaining the planned move.
The minister went on to acknowledge that prison conditions in Armenia still leave much to be desired. But he said the authorities are committed to gradually improving them. In particular, he said, they will complete next year the construction of a penitentiary institution for 1,200 persons located 40 kilometers west of Yerevan.
Armenia’s total prison population currently stands at approximately 4,600.