In an unprecedented move in Armenian judicial practice a local court on Thursday invoked a legal provision for terminally ill inmates to grant medical parole to a prisoner serving a life sentence.
Soghomon Kocharian, 49, was sentenced to death in 1995 after being convicted for murder of an ethnic Azeri citizen of Iran.
Armenia had a moratorium on capital punishment then and later, in 2003, two years after the country joined the Council of Europe, the death penalty for Kocharian was replaced with life imprisonment.
Kocharian did not attend the court session as during the past two months he has been confined to bed in a Yerevan hospital with a serious heart disease.
Doctors assess the health condition of the Karabakh war veteran as heavy. During the 20 years that he spent in prison, Kocharian lost his wife who also succumbed to a heavy disease. His health condition sharply deteriorated after his 19-year-old daughter committed suicide last year. The man is now under his 70-year-old mother’s care.
Kocharian’s lawyer Grisha Balasanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the court decision was long overdue. “He could not continue serving his prison term, he has heart problems. Inhumane treatment was shown to the terminally ill convict,” he said, implying that the authorities should have referred to the legal provision and released Kocharian earlier.
The first court decision releasing an Armenian lifer from prison comes a week after dozens of inmates of a Yerevan penitentiary serving life terms staged a hunger strike for several days demanding that courts in Armenia be more willing to review lifers’ cases when new circumstances arise in them.
Relatives of the prisoners staged another demonstration of protest in front of the main government offices in Yerevan on Thursday demanding that the authorities show political will and change their attitude towards the issue.
Lawyers and human rights activists in Armenia say that courts are often reluctant to review the cases of lifers even when new circumstances arise in them as they try to avoid a possible situation when the justice system would have to bear responsibility for a possible error of judgment.