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Village Official Sentenced For Referendum Fraud


Armenia -- Henrik Shabazian, deputy mayor of Kotayk village, stands trial for vote rigging, 16Mar2016.

Armenia -- Henrik Shabazian, deputy mayor of Kotayk village, stands trial for vote rigging, 16Mar2016.

The deputy mayor of a village in central Armenia received a suspended three-year prison sentence on Thursday for falsifying the results of last December’s constitutional referendum in his community.

Henrik Shahbazian was found guilty of forging documents to double the number of votes for President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial amendments to the Armenian constitution that were cast in the village of Kotayk.

A member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Shahbazian headed a precinct commission that handled voting and counted ballots in Kotayk. He admitted during his trial that in reality most local voters rejected the proposed amendments.

“I regret what I did and am asking you for mild punishment,” the 70-year-old said in his final remarks made at a provincial court.

Shahbazian said during the previous court hearing that he is ready to go to prison. The trial prosecutor demanded only a suspended jail term for him, however.

Accordingly, the presiding judge made sure that the election official avoids imprisonment. The judge did not attempt to clarify whether Shahbazian rigged the vote result on his own or followed government or HHK orders.

The vote rigging in Kotayk -- as well as a number of other precincts -- was exposed by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).

The HAK and other major opposition parties have dismissed as fraudulent the official referendum results indicating strong popular support for the constitutional reform. The authorities insist, however, that reported irregularities were not serious or widespread enough to affect the nationwide referendum outcome.

Armenian prosecutors have charged at least 32 individuals with referendum-related fraud. Many of them have already been tried and found guilty. None has gone to prison as a result.

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