By Gevorg StamboltsianAn Armenian opposition activists jailed for hurling a plastic bottle at a policeman lost on Friday his last realistic chance of not serving his 18-month prison sentence condemned as draconian and politically motivated by local human rights groups.
The Court of Appeals, the highest body of criminal justice in Armenia, rejected the appeal against the controversial imprisonment brought by Edgar Arakelian, a 24-year-old resident of Lusakert, a small town 20 kilometers north of Yerevan.
The verdict followed a 25-minute court hearing during which Arakelian’s defense attorney, Tadevos Aleksanian, made a last-ditch attempt to secure his client’s release. The panel of five judges spent only five minutes on deliberations. They sited no reasons for upholding the jail term.
“This is what we were expecting to happen,” said Vartan Mkrtchian, a senior member of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) with which Arakelian is affiliated. “It not could not have been otherwise given the judicial system existing in Armenia.”
“The unfortunate thing is that none of those judges has looked at the issue in a logical and objective way,” Mkrtchian added.
The HZhK activists pelted a burly police officer with the plastic bottle of mineral water during the brutal break-up of an opposition demonstration against President Robert Kocharian on the night from April 12 to 13. He says he did so after being hit hard by security forces. He also claims to have been tortured in custody.
Arakelian was convicted of assault on a “state official performing their duties” and sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison by a Yerevan court of first instance in late May. The ruling was upheld by Armenia’s Review Court on June 30.
Arakelian’s lawyer indicated that he could take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg whose decisions are binding for Armenia by virtue of its membership in the Council of Europe. However, the appeal process would take months, if not years.
Arakelian is one of six men jailed for between 9 and 18 months for their participation in the Armenian opposition’s spring campaign of street protests aimed at forcing Kocharian to resign. The authorities also rounded up and detained hundreds of opposition activists across the country.
Lavrenti Kirakosian, another jailed oppositionist, got 1 ½ years in prison on charges of keeping 59 grams of marijuana at his home in a village in the southern Armavir region. Kirakosian, who insists that the drug was planted by police officers who searched his house, similarly appealed the ruling but was rebuffed by the Review Court earlier this week.
The Armenian authorities’ crackdown on the opposition has been denounced by domestic and international civic groups, notably Human Rights Watch. The jailed oppositionists are regarded as political prisoners by a coalition of several Armenian non-governmental organizations fighting against what they see as a deterioration of the situation with human rights in the country.
However, the authorities disagree with this assessment and are at least partially backed by Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, the Russian head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Speaking to RFE/RL last month, he said that while the sentences passed on the opposition activists may have been too harsh, none of them was imprisoned “for nothing.”
Pryakhin rebuked in this regard another oppositionist who hit one of the police officers in the southern town of Artashat that apparently subjected him to severe beating in custody last April. The man, Grisha Virabian, needed urgent surgery after several hours of police interrogation and had one of his testicles removed as a result.