Three arrested members of an armed opposition group that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 are continuing a hunger strike which they began last month in protest against their prison conditions.
One of them, Armen Bilian, was the first to start refusing food at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison in mid-December. He was joined by another gunman kept there, Smbat Barseghian, shortly afterwards. Both men are demanding their transfer to another, more modern and less crowded prison located near Armavir, a town 40 kilometers west of the Armenian capital.
Bilian and Barseghian stand accused of murdering three police officers during the armed group’s July 2016 standoff with Armenian security forces. The gunmen demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down. They laid down their weapons two weeks after storming a police compound in the city’s Erebuni district.
The third prisoner, Arayik Khandoyan, went on hunger strike on December 29 in what he called a show of solidarity with his two comrades. Khandoyan began the protest after being taken to a penalty isolation ward at Nubarashen. The prison administration claimed to have found two mobile phones and bootleg alcohol in his regular cell.
Khandoyan’s lawyer, Ara Gharagyozian, on Monday dismissed the alcohol claim as “absurd.” But he admitted that his client kept the phones in breach of Armenian prison rules.
“There are cellphones in all prison cells,” Gharagyozian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “They’ve just confiscated a cellphone from another client of mine and but have not transferred him to an isolation ward.”
Gharagyozian insisted that Khandoyan, who remained in solitary confinement as of Monday afternoon, was punished for his defiant behavior at one of the three ongoing trials stemming from the Erebuni standoff. He accused the prison administration of keeping Khandoyan in “inhuman conditions.”
“The isolation ward is freezing,” the lawyer claimed, adding that his client complained of health problems when he visited the latter earlier in the day.
Representatives of Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, also visited and spoke to Khandoyan on Monday.