The leaders and other members of a radical group that seized an Armenian police station in 2016 do not qualify for a general amnesty declared by the authorities late last year, Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian confirmed on Friday.
Under an amnesty bill passed by the Armenian parliament, participants of the deadly attack can be pardoned only with the consent of their former hostages and other individuals who were subjected to violence by them.
The three dozen gunmen took several police officers hostage when they seized the police compound in Yerevan in July 2016 to demand the resignation of then President Serzh Sarkisian. Among the hostages were Valeri Osipian, who became last year the chief of the Armenian police, and Vartan Yeghiazarian, a former deputy police chief.
Both officers objected to an amnesty for members of the group called Sasna Tsrer when they testified at their trial earlier this month. “I lost comrades,” Osipian told the judge, referring to the three policemen who were killed during the gunmen’s two-week standoff with Armenian security forces.
According to Zeynalian, the objections mean that 21 members of Sasna Tsrer charged with hostage taking cannot be pardoned and will therefore remain on trial.
Those defendants include the two leading members of the group, Varuzhan Avetisian and Pavel Manukian.
Shortly after Sarkisian resigned in April 2018 amid peaceful mass protests, Avetisian, Manukian and all but two other members of Sasna Tsrer were set free pending the outcome of their trials. The two defendants remaining behind bars stand accused of murdering the police Colonel Artur Vanoyan and Warrant Officers Gagik Mkrtchian and Yuri Tepanosian. They deny the accusations.
One of the Sasna Tsrer lawyers, Arayik Papikian, deplored the legal clause that precludes the pardoning of the group’s members. “No person in Armenia must be in a position to agree to the enforcement of a law,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is nonsense.”
Papikian also condemned Osipian for opposing the amnesty, saying that the police chief lacks a “statesmanlike thinking.”
Osipian was a deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department at the time of the attack. He went into the police facility shortly after it was seized by Sasna Tsrer early in the morning.
In his February 6 court testimony, Osipian said that he was beaten up by several gunmen. He claimed that they also threatened to kill him if he refused to tell police forces to join Sasna Tsrer.