Family members and relatives of dozens of inmates of a Yerevan prison serving life sentences gathered in front of the main government offices in the Armenian capital on Thursday to show their support for the hunger strike initiated by the convicts with the demand that their cases be reviewed.
As many as 45 prisoners at the Nubarashen penitentiary have refused to take food since Monday, urging Armenia’s justice authorities to take into account the new circumstances that have emerged in their cases since their convictions.
Many lawyers and human rights activists say Armenian courts are reluctant to review old cases even if some new circumstances become available to avoid responsibility for the system should an error of judgment be revealed in the process. Another factor that minimizes the chances of lifers to have their sentences revised is that in the course of years authorities destroy material evidence, which makes it difficult for a possible retrial to quash the verdict and sentence.
The relatives of the lifers protesting near the government building today demanded a meeting with Justice Minister Arpine Harutiunian who attended a government sitting taking place inside.
The demonstrators, too, demanded that the cases of their relatives be reviewed, insisting that some new circumstances may influence the original verdicts and sentences of the courts. They said they were sure that if the courts reviewed the cases the sentences of many could be reduced, and others could even be released.
The participants in the action also voiced complaints over the conditions of their relatives’ imprisonment, including the poor quality of food they get and inaccessibility of timely medical care.
The protesters also addressed their demands to Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian, Ombudsman Karen Andreasian and head of the National Assembly’s standing commission for state and legal affairs Hovhannes Sahakian, but they said none of them had responded by Thursday afternoon.
After demonstrating near the government building for about three hours, the protesters marched towards the presidential palace, threatening to start a sit-in and a hunger strike there.
This is not the first time that lifers in Armenia go on a collective hunger strike with a similar demand. Last year some three dozen of them for several days refused to take food also demanding that the authorities legally increase their chances of regaining freedom.
A Justice Ministry spokesperson told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the number of lifers on a hunger strike at the Nubarashen penitentiary has now reached 50.