One of the arrested members of an armed opposition group that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 ended a nearly month-long hunger strike after being taken to a prison hospital on Friday.
Armen Bilian went on hunger strike in Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison on December 15, demanding his transfer to another, more modern and less crowded prison located near Armavir, a town 40 kilometers west of the Armenian capital.
Smbat Barseghian, another gunman kept at Nubarashen, joined the protest and voiced the same demand on December 21. He continued to refuse food as of Friday evening.
Bilian and Barseghian stand accused of killing 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 surrendered two weeks after storming a police compound in the city’s Erebuni district.
Bilian’s lawyer, Armine Fanian, cited health reasons when she petitioned the Armenian Justice Ministry’s prison department to move her client to the Armavir prison. The department rejected the request, saying that the Bilian has not been diagnosed with any illness “not compatible” with conditions at Nubarashen. It insisted that the inmates of both penitentiary institutions have access to “identical” medical assistance.
The department described Bilian’s health condition as “satisfactory” when it announced his hospitalization on Friday. It said he decided to end the hunger strike immediately after being taken to the prison hospital in Yerevan.
Fanian insisted, meanwhile, that prison conditions at Nubarashen are extremely poor. “We are talking about basic prison conditions which are degrading at the Nubarashen prison,” the lawyer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “People kept there take turns to sleep. Overcrowding there is not a secret to anyone.”
A human rights activist, Artur Sakunts, said for his part that the two murder suspects want to be transferred to the Armavir jail because they are harassed by “criminal elements” at Nubarashen. The latter are acting on government orders, Sakunts claimed at a news conference.