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Applause at Nubarashen Prison: People are Being Released

By Mher Yenokyan: Hetq’s Correspondent at Nubarashen Prison

It’s usually pretty quiet within the walls of the Nubarashen Penitentiary, but lately, I’ve heard appluase and cheers.

I was on the roof, where the inmates are allowed to stretch their legs, the first time I heard the cries of joy, followed by loud and long bouts of clapping. Given the circular shape of the prison, it was hard to determine where the noise was coming from.

I asked a prison employee making the rounds on the roof. “Somebody on the third floor was just released,” he replied.

The same thing happened a few days ago. This time it was in the exercise room on the fourth floor.

Since the small window grate on the door was open, I saw who was to be released. He was around thirty, carrying a sports bag.  A prison guard was escorting him to the exit, to the world of light beyond. The clapping of cellmates could still be heard long afterwards, even though the iron door leading to the world outside remained closed to them.

I also hear these joyous shouts and claps heralding freedom while watching TV coverage of political trials. I see that one of the judges who has released some pre-trial detention and has freed others from imprisonment altogether is Artoush Gabrielyan. It was he who, one year ago, approved my petition to be permitted to see my family, ordering prison officials to allow them to periodically visit me.

During my 22 years of struggle in the name of justice, Gabrielyan remains both a judge and honorable man in my mind’s eye.

I should note that I still receive congratulations on my becoming a jurist. Even prison staffers, on their rounds, congratulate me. Relatives tell me that even strangers stop by, offering congratulations. This really buoys my spirits.  Thanks to all the well-wishers.

A reporter from Civilnet came to the prison to interview me. The reporter and cameraman were both named Gevorg. We talked about life in prison, the daily struggle involved, the opportunity to study and work, the need to review certain cases, and a whole host of matters. I thank Civilnet and prison management for making the interview a reality.

I met with Tigran Tonoyan, Public Affairs Officer for the Department of Corrections. We talked a bit. It felt like I was on the outside, getting acquainted with someone in my age group. Reality set in when I returned to my cell.

They have moved me to the fourth floor of this round prison. The windows here is much larger than in the cells on the fifth floor reserved for those that were once sentenced to death. It’s noisier on this floor as well. There’s almost constant commotion of some sort.

Most of the cells on the fourth-floor house those being detained while awaiting trial or who are ferried back and forth to their trials.

I still spend three hours every weekday at the computer room on the fifth floor. Right now, I’m brushing up on my English. I watch CNN to hear English spoken and also have a conversation book that I study. I shout out questions, in English, and then answer them. I have an English-Armenian legal dictionary that a dear person presented to me as a gift. I also have a few English books that good people have given to me.

I also follow the positive changes now taking place in the country and hope that, one day, that matter of life incarceration will be reviewed as well.

I am certain that this issue must be approached solely on a legal basis – early conditional release, a review of cases and penalties, legislative changes, etc.

It’s already evident that judges are slowly freeing themselves from the illegal pressure tactics of past presidents. But we need working mechanisms to ensure that judges are no longer swayed by phone calls from influential people when drafting their decisions and verdicts. The rule of law must reign supreme in the judicial system.

I agree with those experts who say that the Court of Cassation is at the root of all judicial system change.

I’ve felt the impact of this court on my life for many years now; every time the court has decided to issue cookie-cutter rejections to petitions and motions I have filed.