The Armenian authorities have not arrested or imprisoned anyone for political reasons, Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian said on Thursday.
“I don’t agree that there are political prisoners in Armenia,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Harutiunian dismissed a list of about a dozen imprisoned individuals drawn up my some human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations.
“I am familiar with many such lists. I have also seen a list drawn up by an international organization which described Nairi Hunanian as a political prisoner,” he said, referring to the jailed leader of an armed group that assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and seven other officials in the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament.
“Everything depends on standards and unfortunately the fact is that this term [political prisoner] is very often used for political purposes,” added the minister who has held senior state posts for the last two decades.
The individuals considered to be political prisoners by critics of the Armenian government are mostly members or supporters of fringe opposition groups. One of them, Zhirayr Sefilian, was sentenced this week to 10.5 years in prison on coup charges which he strongly denies.
The lengthy prison sentence has been condemned by Armenian civic groups and mainstream opposition leaders such as Nikol Pashinian, a leader of the Yelk alliance.
Another Yelk leader, Edmon Marukian, on Thursday commented more cautiously on the jail term handed to Sefilian. He said he will pass final judgment only after looking into the verdict handed down by a Yerevan district court. Marukian made clear at the same time that he believes that the verdict is “connected” with Sefilian’s political activities.
The head of the European Union Delegation in Yerevan, Piotr Switalski, was asked by reporters last September about the existence of political prisoners in Armenia. “The European Union does not always necessarily share the views of non-governmental organizations,” Switalski said. “On such issues, we are mainly guided by decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights. As you know, there are no people in Armenia who are qualified by [the Strasbourg court] as political prisoners.”