The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights on Thursday criticized Armenian law-enforcement authorities for seeking to imprison a 15-year-old activist prosecuted for his participation in a violent anti-government demonstration.
Nils Muiznieks expressed concern about Shahen Harutiunian’s fate at the end of a fact-finding visit to Armenia that involved meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian, senior Armenian security officials and civic activists.
Harutiunian went on trial earlier this year along with 12 other men, including his father Shant, who were arrested during a violent clash with riot police in Yerevan in November last year. Unlike them, he was not placed under arrest.
The defendants were among several dozen protesters who tried to march towards Sarkisian’s offices in what their leader, Shant Harutiunian, called a “revolution.” Police used force to stop the small crowd armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades.
Last month prosecutors asked a Yerevan court to sentence the 13 men to between 4 and 8.5 years in prison for what they see as a grave disruption of public order and resistance to police. They demanded a 5-year prison sentence for Shahen Harutiunian, sparking a chorus of condemnations by Armenian human rights activists.
Muiznieks said that the jail term sought for the teenager is tantamount to life imprisonment given his age. He said Shahen should not have been tried along with the adults in the first place.
“These cases came up in my discussions,” Muiznieks told a news conference in Yerevan. “Children should not be treated as adults … I made this point to the prosecutor general.”
According to the Council of Europe official, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian defended the punishment demanded for the schoolboy, saying that the trial prosecutors acted in accordance with the Armenian Criminal Code.
Muiznieks met with relatives of the jailed men on Sunday. Speaking to journalists, he avoided endorsing their claims that the anti-government activists are political prisoners.
The court has not yet handed down a ruling in the high-profile case.