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Convicted Militants Sent Back To Jail


Armenia - A general view of Erebuni police station seized by gunmen and supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilian, in Yerevan, July 30, 2016

Key members of an armed anti-government group that seized a police base in Yerevan in July 2016 were sent back to jail over the weekend after Armenia’s highest court upheld prison sentences handed down to them.

The seven men 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 released from custody shortly after Sarkisian was toppled in the 2018 “velvet revolution” led by Nikol Pashinian.

Armenia - The funeral in Yerevan of Yuri Tepanosian, an Armenian police officer killed in a standoff between security forces and opposition gunmen, 1Aug2016.
Armenia - The funeral in Yerevan of Yuri Tepanosian, an Armenian police officer killed in a standoff between security forces and opposition gunmen, 1Aug2016.

The two other members remained behind bars because of facing murder charges denied by them. A district court in Yerevan sentenced one of them to 25 years in prison in February 2021. The other, Armen Bilian, was given the same jail term by the Court of Appeals in December.

The court also upheld prison sentences of between six and eight years given to the seven other defendants. They continued to deny any wrongdoing, appealing to the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal justice.

Armenia - Varuzhan Avetisian (L), the leader an armed opposition group that seized a police station in July 2016, at the start of his trial in Yerevan, 8Jun2017.
Armenia - Varuzhan Avetisian (L), the leader an armed opposition group that seized a police station in July 2016, at the start of his trial in Yerevan, 8Jun2017.

The Court of Cassation rejected the appeals, a decision which judicial authorities announced only after the seven men, including Sasna Tsrer leader Varuzhan Avetisian, were arrested and transported to jail on Saturday. One of their lawyers, Arayik Papikian, condemned the “political decision.”

Avetisian, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, has repeatedly defended the armed attack on the police facility located in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district. But he has denied responsibility for the killing of the three police officers: Colonel Artur Vanoyan and Warrant Officers Yuri Tepanosian and Gagik Mkrtchian.

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.

Relatives of the slain officers are also unhappy with the guilty verdicts in the case. Tepanosian’s wife and Mkrtchian’s mother insisted on Saturday that all members of the armed group should have been sentence to life imprisonment.

Avetisian has also faced in recent months embarrassing accusations from Bilian, the man convicted of committing one of the three murders. Bilian claimed that the Sasna Tsrer leader as well as Sefilian knew that he did not kill the policeman but still helped to jail him as part of a secret deal with the Armenian authorities.

Avetisian categorically denied the allegations, arguing that he and Sefilian are also in opposition to the current government.

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