Twenty-nine men serving life sentences in Armenia’s largest prison again went on hunger strike on Monday to demand that the authorities review their cases or legally increase their chances of regaining freedom.
Eleven of them ended the protest later in the day after receiving fresh assurances that the Armenian Justice Ministry, which runs the prisons across the country, is addressing their demands.
Tsovinar Khachatrian, a ministry spokeswoman, said officials at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison informed them that “legislative changes are expected regarding those sentenced to life in prison and their prison conditions.” She gave no details of those changes.
The Nubarashen inmates heard similar promises before ending their previous, three-day hunger strike in July. Justice Minister Hovannes Manukian assured them that he will find legal “solutions” to their plight.
“Since no solutions have been found to date, they again resorted to an extreme step such as hunger strike,” Yeranuhi Tumaniants, an aide to Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after visiting the protesting lifers.
Tumaniants said the lifers want to be eligible for parole after spending more than 15 years behind bars. She said they point to the fact that the maximum period of a non-life imprisonment in Armenia was extended from 15 to 20 years in 2011.
“They feel that they were jailed for life [before 2011] because courts considered a 15-year prison sentence too soft a punishment for their crimes,” explained Tumaniants. “They say that they would not have been sentenced to life imprisonment had there been a possibility of jailing them for 20 years.”
Some prisoners involved in the hunger strikes also claim that they were not convicted in fair trials and want law-enforcement and judicial authorities to review their cases.
A total of 104 people are currently serving life sentences in Armenia for murders and other grave crimes. Ninety of them are kept at Nubarashen.