By Anush MartirosianArmenia’s Court of Appeals upheld on Wednesday prison sentences that were given recently to two prominent opposition politicians accused of committing electoral crimes.
A court in the Armenian city of Gyumri sentenced Petros Makeyan, the leader of the opposition Democratic Fatherland party, and Ashot Zakarian, head of the local chapter of the influential Yerkrapah Union of war veterans, to three and two-and-a-half years in prison respectively in June. They were convicted of “obstructing the work” of a local election commission during the disputed presidential election of February 19.
Both men, who were registered as proxies of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, have denied the charges as politically motivated. They say they simply protested against an instance of serious fraud in the polling station.
The Court of Appeals dismissed Makeyan’s and Zakarian’s appeal against the lower court ruling after a brief and chaotic session. Its verdict was read out in the absence of both defendants. They were taken away from the courtroom after a bitter shouting match with the panel of three judges whom they accused of executing government orders. Their lawyers walked out of the small room packed by angry opposition supporters in protest.
Makeyan and Saghatelian are among 76 opposition politicians and supporters who were arrested in the wake of the presidential ballot and remain in jail despite Western pressure on the Armenian government. Most of the detainees face accusations stemming from the deadly March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces.
The Council of Europe and international bodies say that at least some of the jailed oppositionists were prosecuted for engaging peaceful political activities. Council of Europe officials have warned that failure to free all political prisoners by next October would call into question Armenia’s continued membership in the Strasbourg-based organization.
The Armenian authorities have also been under Western pressure to prosecute individuals guilty of serious irregularities that have tainted just about every election held in the country since independence. More than 20 such criminal cases were opened following the February election. The vast majority of the individuals arrested and prosecuted as a result appear to be Ter-Petrosian supporters.
One of them, Harutiun Urutian, was sentenced to six years in prison in May, in what was the harshest election-related punishment in Armenia’s history. Urutian ran Ter-Petrosian’s campaign office in the northwestern town of Maralik. The Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found him guilty of assaulting a proxy of establishment candidate Serzh Sarkisian at a local polling station.
(Photolur photo: Petros Makeyan.)