More than four dozen inmates of a Yerevan prison serving life sentences have been on an open-ended hunger strike since Monday, demanding that their cases be reviewed.
The prisoners at the Nubarashen penitentiary say Armenian justice authorities must take into account the new circumstances that have emerged in their cases since their convictions.
The 45 lifers have sent open letters to the president, the prosecutor-general, the ombudsman, the relevant commission at the Ministry of Justice. But as of Tuesday, only a deputy justice minister and the senior representatives of the Ministry of Justice’s Penitentiary Department visited them.
The Ministry of Justice told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that during the meeting they discussed ways of solving the problems, presented a number of legislative initiatives aimed at improving the situation. Also, it said, the deputy minister called on the prisoners to stop their hunger strike.
Lawyer Robert Revazian, who has several times been to courts with petitions for revisions of lifers’ cases, said he has made sure that no revisions are done after verdicts are delivered. “New circumstances mean a new trial and, hence, the need for bringing to account those responsible for the mistakes [during the original trial]. They are afraid of revisions, they are afraid of getting stuck in a quagmire… If a person has been sentenced to life imprisonment he has no chance of having his case reviewed,” he said.
This is not the first time lifers in Armenia go on a collective hunger strike with a similar demand. Last year some three dozen of them for several days refused to take food also demanding that the authorities legally increase their chances of regaining freedom.
Journalist Zaruhi Mejlumian, who has for years dealt with the issue, insisted that there may be up to a hundred lifers in Armenia today who are victims of possible judicial error.
According to her, if in Armenia tangible evidence wasn’t destroyed, then it would be possible to make revisions in cases when new circumstances open in the course of years.“During the last ten days there have been three cases of verdict quashing in the United States... Due to the fact that tangible evidence is kept there, people can get acquittals,” she said.
Many experts also find that prisoners in Armenia are often not given proper medical treatment. Besides, even though the law provides the opportunity for a lifer who has served 20 years of his or her term to become eligible for parole, as Mejlumian said, no parole has been applied to any of the 10 lifers who are past this term today.
Experts in Armenia also voice concerns over the failure by the National Assembly to bring to the floor and adopt a law that will solve some of the issues raised by the lifers, in particular, allowing them more frequent visits from family members, more opportunities for walks and employment.