NGOs Demand Release of Sefilyan and Other "Political Prisoners"

Several NGOs in Armenia have called on the government to release Jirayr Sefilyan, now on trial for illegal firearms charges and for planning to seize state buildings in Yerevan, arguing that the opposition activist is a political prisoner.

The NGOs, in a letter sent to the government, are demanding that Sefilyan and the other defendants in the case be immediately released, calling such a step vital for the development of democracy in Armenia.

The state prosecutor in the case is seeking eleven years imprisonment for Sefilyan, 4 years and six months for Gevorg Safaryan and Sasounik Kirakosyan, four years for Nerses Poghosyan, three years for Hrayr Topchyan and Galoust Grigoryan, and two years for Hovhannes Petrosyan.

The NGOs also call on international public opinion to castigate the Armenian government for such violations of human rights.

The NGOs claim that there are scores of individuals now being held in Armenian jails and prisons on trumped up charges and false evidence solely due to their political beliefs and actions.

They cite the following PACE definition of a political prisoner and argue that many in Armenia fit the bill. Other than the above seven named individuals, the NGOs, in their letter, do not name the other “political prisoners” in Armenia.

“A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a ‘political prisoner’:

a. if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;

b. if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;

c. if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of;

d. if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or,

e. if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.”

The participating NGOs are Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, Helsinki Citizens Assembly-Vanadzor Office, Asparez Journalists’ Group, Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Women’s Resource Center, Union of Aware Citizens, Defense of Rights without Borders, Public Press Club, Globalization and Regional Cooperation Analytical Center, Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Speech, In the Name of Equal Rights NGO.