By Hovannes Shoghikian
Three opposition supporters imprisoned for their participation in post-election anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan have been pardoned by President Serzh Sarkisian and set free after confessing to controversial accusations leveled against them.
Eduard Ashughian, Arman Markarian and Artur Nazanian were among more than 100 supporters and associates of opposition Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of last February’s disputed presidential election. They were subsequently sentenced to between three and three-and-a-half years in prison for taking part in “mass disturbances” and resisting police officers. The charges stemmed from the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and thousands of opposition protesters.
Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for a Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prison, told RFE/RL on Monday that the three men were let go on Friday after admitting their guilt and asking Sarkisian for an amnesty.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Samvel Farmanian, said the president granted the requests because of their repentance, lack of prior criminal records and “family circumstances.” “The president of the republic has always been ready to consider amnesty requests,” he said in a statement.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Ashughian said he was offered to appeal to Sarkisian last week by the chief of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison where he was serving a three-year prison sentence. He said although he accepted his guilt in a letter to the president he will continue to participate in rallies staged by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition.
Ashughian already pleaded guilty to the accusations brought against him during his trial earlier this year. He said on Monday that he did so in the hope of avoiding imprisonment. “I confessed on the first day [of the trial,]” he said. “But they fooled me, so to speak. The investigator had told me that I won’t go to prison if I plead guilty.”
Meanwhile, Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) compared Sarkisian’s actions to “the Soviet totalitarian regime’s behavior” and accused the authorities of exploiting the plight of opposition detainees. In a weekend statement, the HAK claimed that government “emissaries” have been visiting many “political prisoners” and trying to convince them to renounce further political activities in exchange for freedom. The opposition alliance said the Sarkisian administration is thereby trying to prevent the Council of Europe from imposing sanctions against Armenia.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has given Yerevan until next January to free individuals jailed on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges” or face embarrassing sanctions. Visiting Yerevan last month, Thomas Hammarberg, the Strasbourg-based organization’s human rights commissioner, said the Armenian government has still not complied with relevant provisions of the PACE’s April and June resolutions on Armenia.
The authorities have so far left no indications that they are ready to release most of some 70 oppositionists remaining in prison. They are currently pressing ahead with preparations for the collective trial of seven of the most prominent detainees, including three parliament deputies and Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign manager. They stand accused of organizing the March 1 riots as part of Ter-Petrosian’s alleged coup plot. The opposition strongly denies the government claims.
(Photolur photo: Opposition supporters rally in Yerevan on March 1.)