The European Court of Human Rights is looking into an appeal lodged by a prominent Armenian opposition figure who was among dozens of people controversially imprisoned following the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Sasun Mikaelian, a former parliamentarian who campaigned for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s return to power, appealed to the Strasbourg court shortly after being released from prison in May 2011 under a general amnesty.
Mikaelian was sentenced to eight years in prison for his part in the March 1-2, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters, which left ten people dead. Like other Ter-Petrosian loyalists, he was convicted of organizing “mass disturbances” and illegal arms possession. He has said all along that the charges are baseless and politically motivated.
Mikaelian, who is also prominent veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, wants the European Court to have his conviction overturned because of what he calls serious violations of the due process. In particular, he claims that it is based on incriminating testimony forcibly extracted from his associates.
“One of my men was beaten up so brutally that he couldn’t recognize his grandchildren for three or four days,” Mikaelian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) “But his testimony was used against me.”
Most of those witnesses retracted their testimony during the trial of Mikaelian and several other opposition leaders, saying that they were tortured and bullied to endorse the charges leveled against him. Armenian courts dismissed those statements, however.
The European Court has already presented the Armenian government with a list of questions relating to the case. The government has until next March to answer them in writing. The court will then decide whether to throw out the case or pass judgment on it. It has received similar appeals from many of the other oppositionists jailed in 2008.
Mikaelian, who fell out with Ter-Petrosian a year ago, defended the opposition actions in March 2008. “The people were fighting for justice, for their future,” he said, denouncing Armenia’s current leadership as a criminal “gang.” “I will keep fighting,” he added.
The Armenian authorities have defended the use of deadly force against the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition, accusing it of attempting to overthrow the government. Ter-Petrosian and his current and former allies insist, however, that the authorities deliberately killed people to enforce the transfer of power from outgoing President Robert Kocharian to Serzh Sarkisian.