By Karine Kalantarian
Zhirayr Sefilian, a prominent Nagorno-Karabakh war veteran and opposition figure controversially jailed last year, will not be released on parole because of his harsh criticism of Armenia’s government, law-enforcement officials confirmed on Wednesday.
Under Armenian law, convicts who have completed at least one third of their prison sentences can be rewarded for their good behavior with parole. Sefilian was arrested last December and subsequently sentenced to 18 months, meaning that he can already file a relevant application to a special commission formed by President Robert Kocharian.
The administration of Yerevan’s Vartashen prison has made Sefilian’s pre-term release all but impossible by formally sanctioning him over his October 17 verbal spat with the deputy prison chief, Samvel Petrosian. In a conversation with Petrosian, Sefilian reportedly called the criminal case against him politically motivated and said Armenia is run by a “criminal” government and lacks an independent judiciary.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Petrosian confirmed reports that he found the claims “disrespectful of the state and the courts” and took disciplinary action against the jailed leader of a pressure group opposed to any Armenian territorial concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said Sefilian is therefore not eligible for parole.
“By law, the commission can not consider a parole application from a sanctioned prisoner,” said Petrosian.
Sefilian’s supporters say the October 17 incident was a government provocation aimed at making sure that the Lebanese national of Armenian descent remains in jail May 2008.
In an interview with RFE/RL at the Vartashen prison, Sefilian declined to comment on this and reiterated instead his view that the case against him and another jailed leader of his organization, Vartan Malkhasian, was “fabricated” for political aims. “We were jailed for exercising our right to free speech,” he said.
The hardline nationalist also said that he will not stop slamming the Armenian authorities for the sake of his early release from prison. “The authorities are doing their job and we will keep doing our job,” he said.
Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested in December 2006 and charged with calling for a violent overthrow of the government. A Yerevan court of first instance found Malkhasian guilty on that count and sentenced him to two years in prison in August.
The court cleared Sefilian of the charge but still jailed him for 18 months for illegally possessing a pistol which he had received as a gift from a former commander of the Karabakh Armenian army. Armenia’s Court of Appeals confirmed the sentences last month.
Both men claim that they were imprisoned for their pledge to fight against fraud in the May 2007 parliamentary elections and a presidential ballot due early next year.
(Photolur photo: Zhirayr Sefilian.)