A retired army colonel critical of the government has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison in a controversial trial that ended in Yerevan on Thursday.
Volodya Avetisian, a veteran of the 1992-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, was arrested last September and charged with defrauding a person of $2,000 after promising to have his relative exempted from compulsory military service. According to prosecutors, he also attempted to defraud another man of $500 giving him the same promise.
The retired officer began a lone protest in a central Yerevan square a few months before his arrest. He, in particular, demanded better social conditions for thousands of war veterans who he said have to live off meager state pensions. Avetisian’s one-man action sparked larger protests staged by war veterans, some of whom also made political demands to the government.
Avetisian has strongly denied the charges brought against him. His supporters, meanwhile, have alleged ‘political motives’ behind the prosecution. Many of them met the announcement of the verdict and sentence against Avetisian with protests, chanting “Shame on you!” in the courtroom.
Avetisian himself did not comment on the court decision. But in his closing speech earlier today he said: “I am ready to go to jail, because if you want to save the nation, you must be prepared to make sacrifices.”
Earlier, Avetisian was also controversially deprived of the opportunity to be released under an amnesty declared in Armenia in 2013. Avetisian’s defense attorney Ara Zakarian confirmed to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that had the court sentenced his client to five years in prison, he would have become eligible for release under the amnesty act.
The lawyer said they will appeal the verdict and the sentence at a higher court.