Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, on Tuesday described as “unacceptable” the prison conditions of a jailed opposition activist who has been kept in solitary confinement for the past three weeks.
The activist, Gevorg Safarian, who is serving a two-year prison sentence, was moved back to his previous cell at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison on Monday following protests from his lawyers, supporters and human rights activists. The prison administration kept him in a solitary confinement cell for 23 days for still unclear reasons.
Safarian has attributed the punitive measure to his refusal to be transferred to the main prison block where he believes he could be assaulted by inmates convicted of grave violent crimes. Gevorg Gorgisian, one of two opposition lawmakers who visited the activist on Monday, said the Nubarashen administration declined to give a clear reason for the attempted relocation.
The activist’s relatives say that the authorities decided to intimidate him through “criminal elements” after he lambasted police officers during a recent court hearing.
Safarian, who is affiliated with the Founding Parliament radical opposition movement, has also complained of harsh conditions in his solitary cell. Tatoyan found the complaints justified.
“We are speaking about excessive humidity, [insufficient] penetration of sunlight and, yes, the presence of insects,” the ombudsman told a news conference.
“This issue is constantly at the center of our attention,” he said. “Every time we visit a detainee or a convict prison conditions are of paramount importance to for us. The prison conditions there [in Safarian’s solitary cell] are unacceptable to us.”
Tatoyan also questioned the attempted change of Safarian’s prison cell and grounds for his solitary confinement. He said he has demanded an official explanation from the Justice Ministry, which runs Armenia’s prisons.
Safarian was among dozens of radical opposition activists who scuffled with riot police as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square early on January 1, 2016. He was arrested and accused of assaulting one of the officers, a charge which both he and Founding Parliament rejected as politically motivated. A Yerevan court sentenced the outspoken activist to two years in prison in January this year.
In a separate criminal case, Safarian and several other Founding Parliament figures stand accused of plotting “mass disturbances” in April 2015. They strongly deny these charges as well.