Twenty-eight men serving life sentences in Armenia’s largest prison began a fresh hunger strike on Monday to demand that law-enforcement and judicial authorities review their cases.
A Justice Ministry division overseeing the Armenian prisons reported the hunger strike on Tuesday.
The protesting inmates of the Nubarashen prison just outside Yerevan already refused food in October with similar demands backed by their families. They had also regularly gone on hunger strikes in previous years.
Many of the prisoners claim that they were jailed on trumped-up charges. Robert Revazian, a lawyer working for the Armenian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, believes that at least some of them have reason to demand a revision of their cases.
“Many of those verdicts were handed down in the 1990s when Armenia’s judicial system was still taking shape and the likelihood of mistakes [by judges] was high,” explained Revazian.
“What they demand is a simple thing: revision of their cases, something which is commonplace in many countries but does not exist in Armenia,” said Hasmik Harutiunian, a member of a team of civil society members monitoring prison conditions in the country. “We don’t have a single case of an individual sentenced to life imprisonment having had his verdict re-examined.”
One Armenian lifer, Soghomon Kocharian, was set free in October after spending 20 years behind bars for the killing of an Iranian citizen. Kocharian was terminally ill and died two weeks later.
One of them protesting lifers, Vagharshak Avetisian, was jailed on charges of murdering a taxi driver in Yerevan. His mother, Marine Badalian, claimed on Tuesday that the verdict was based on a false confession extracted under duress. “I feel like I too was given a life sentence,” Badalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “A jailed person must be given hope that he will get out of prison 10 or 20 years later.”