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Nine Sentenced Over 2016 Attack On Armenian Police Station


Armenia - Gunmen occupy a police station in Yerevan, 23July2016.

An Armenian court gave on Wednesday prison sentences ranging from about 5 to 25 years to nine key members of an armed anti-government group that seized a police base in Yerevan in July 2016.

The defendants and two dozen other gunmen stormed the base to demand that then President Serzh Sarkisian free Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their radical opposition movement, and step down.

The gunmen, who took police officers and medical personnel hostage, laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead.

All but two members of the armed group called Sasna Tsrer were set free pending the outcome of their trials shortly after Sarkisian was toppled in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” led by Nikol Pashinian.

The two other members remained behind bars because of facing murder charges denied by them.

Armenia - Relatives of police officers killed in a standoff with opposition gunmen attend a remembrance ceremony in Yerevan, 28Sep2016.
Armenia - Relatives of police officers killed in a standoff with opposition gunmen attend a remembrance ceremony in Yerevan, 28Sep2016.

The court convicted one of them, Smbat Barseghian, of murdering Colonel Artur Vanoyan and Warrant Officer Yuri Tepanosian and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

But it found the other defendant, Armen Bilian, not guilty of the killing of the third police victim, Warrant Officer Gagik Mkrtchian.

The presiding judge, Mesrop Makian, said that prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence in support of the accusation. He said they must order a new investigation into the circumstances of Mkrtchian’s death.

Bilian was released from custody despite being convicted of other criminal charges and sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison.

Bilian remained unrepentant about the deadly attack, saying that he and his comrades waged a legitimate struggle against Sarkisian. “We still have a lot to do to have justice established in Armenia,” he told reporters after his release.

The seven other defendants were sentenced to between 6 and 8 years. They were found guilty of illegal arms possession, hostage taking and seizure of state buildings.

Armenia -- Members of an armed group that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 stand trial, November 11, 2017.
Armenia -- Members of an armed group that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 stand trial, November 11, 2017.

The defendants continued to deny the accusations and said they will appeal against the verdict. All of them except Barseghian will remain at large at least until higher court rulings on their planned appeal.

Varuzhan Avetisian, the Sasna Tsrer leader who got a 7-year jail term, has repeatedly defended the armed attack on the police facility located in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district.

Some relatives of the slain policemen present in the courtroom were also not satisfied with the verdict.

Tepanosian’s wife said his convicted murderer should have been sentenced to life imprisonment. “May all members of this group be tried by God,” she said.

The 2016 attack was condemned by the United States and the European Union. “We abhor the actions of Sasna Tsrer and others who use violence or who threaten to harm others to serve their political agenda,” Richard Mills, the then U.S. ambassador to Armenia, said in 2018.

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