Court judges ruled that all four men qualify for the amnesty and ordered their release. The orders prompted rapturous applause and cheers from dozens of opposition supporters that packed the courtrooms.
The amnesty initiated by President Serzh Sarkisian and approved by the National Assembly on Friday is expected to lead to the release of at least 34 of more than 50 Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in jail more than 15 months after the February 2008 ballot and ensuing unrest. Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) has condemned the authorities for their refusal to free all individuals regarded as political prisoners by the opposition and human rights groups.
“Thank you all. I’m sure our struggle is only just beginning,” Sirunian said as he and Arzumanian were welcomed by supporters moments later. “I consider this verdict illegal,” he told RFE/RL.
The four men first met up outside a statue in central Yerevan that was the focal point of a vast area barricaded by thousands of opposition protesters on March 1, 2008. Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed in subsequent pitched battles.
They then traveled to Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan where another opposition parliamentarian, Sasun Mikaelian, heard the verdict in his case handed down by a local court. Mikaelian loudly sang patriotic songs and made angry comments as the presiding judge sentenced him to eight years’ imprisonment on charges of riot organization and illegal arms possession.
Under the terms of the amnesty, oppositionists jailed for more than five years are not eligible for early release. That Mikaelian will not be set free was made clear by Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian on Friday.
The amnesty, which will affect a total of about 2,000 persons serving prison sentences for various crimes, is widely linked with this week’s session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The Strasbourg-based body is scheduled to again discuss on Wednesday Armenia’s compliance with its resolutions demanding the immediate release of all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated” charges. It has previously threatened to impose sanctions against Yerevan.