By Armen Zakarian
Up to 30 inmates of a prison in central Armenia went on hunger strike earlier this week to protest against their exclusion from a general amnesty declared by the parliament, the interior ministry said on Saturday. An amnesty bill affecting some 2100 convicts and persons kept in pre-trial detention, a third of the country’s total prison population, was passed by the legislators on Tuesday in commemoration of the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s adoption of Christianity.
The interior ministry spokesman, Artak Vartazarian, told RFE/RL that the inmates at the Sevan jail agreed to end the hunger strike on Friday after negotiations with the prison administration. He said there were no acts of violence during the protest.
Under the amnesty bill, only some 1250 persons serving prison sentences of up to five years will be set free, while 870 other convicts will have their jail terms shortened. Individuals convicted of murder and other serious offences will not be entitled to pardon.
Vartazarian said the prisoners also demanded a meeting with Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs which pushed for an even broader amnesty. But its proposals were rejected by the government.
“While disagreeing with the view that the amnesty should not be expanded any further, we settled for the lesser of evils and voted for the measure,” Dallakian explained on Saturday. He said he is ready to visit the Sevan prison to assess the situation there.