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11.06.2018 | human rights in closed institutions

“If one was able to stay a human being in the prison, not become an animal, that fact alone is sufficient for returning to society”

“If one was able to stay a human being in the prison, not become an animal, that fact alone is sufficient for returning to society”
The justice system in Armenia has put the life prisoners in a desperately difficult situation. The heavy gates leading to freedom are forever closed, and it seems that the only way out is natural death. With explicit cruelty and baselessly, the courts reject the early conditional release applications of life prisoners who already have served 20 years of their sentence.

The inhuman treatment of relevant bodies has indirectly turned into a kind of torture. This is evidenced with the death of 26 life-sentenced prisoners. Some lifers sometimes miraculously earn favorable treatment, their imprisonment regime changes: instead of 1 hour, they gain the right to walk for 4 hours. Arthur Mkrtchyan is one of those life-sentenced prisoners who did not even get this treatment.

He has been behind the bars for 23 years. Artur has sent two unanswered letters to the Penitentiary administration requesting a change in his sentence mode. On May 11 of this year, the Penitentiary administration rejected Artur Mkrtchyan’s third petition to be transferred to a semi-closed correctional facility.

The decision was appealed in the court. Commission found that correctional work for Artur’s improvement should be continued. As a basis for rejection, the nine penalties received by Artur during 23 years of imprisonment have been referred. Only one of these nine is really connected with his behavior, and it occurred in distant 1998. The other eight penalties were connected with keeping a phone. The last penalty was imposed on him in 2011.

Artur Mkrtchyan says in his interview with Forrights.am that he is convinced he has been wronged and an injustice has occurred, no justification has been brought. "It is absurd to reject me on the basis of these penalties, because almost all the lifers’ regimes have been changed to semi-close while all of them have had penalties. Based on my information, I am the only one whose regime is not being changed.”

In 2016, the court rejected Arthur Mkrtchyan`s application for early release. Along with 9 penalties, negative evaluation has been given to Arthur`s absence in the tennis tournament. His human merits have been ignored. "During the early release trial discussion, I ask them to point out a single incident where I did not demonstrate behavior worthy to a Christian, to an Armenian. No response ... They say I did not play tennis. I have never played tennis in my whole life,” says the life prisoner.

Human rights defender Zhanna Aleksanyan regularly visits life-sentenced prisoners. She is more than convinced that Arthur Mkrtchyan belongs to a group of lifers who have to be released promptly. It is still questionable how each of the nine penalties is justified. “Last year, I visited Nurabashen PI, to meet with Armenak Mnjoyan and Artur Mkrtchyan. When learning who I am meeting with, the Deputy Chief said they were the convicts, for whom he would gladly open the prison gates and would say please go. He said, unfortunately, he did not have that authority. This example shows what kind of behavior Arthur had demonstrated for 20 years, patience along with the status of innocent."

Mechanisms for correcting the convict and returning him/her to civilian life do not function in prison. The motivation to be corrected and subject to law is practically absent. “The practice of destroying the person functions in prison. If one was able to stay a human being in the prison, not become an animal, that fact alone is sufficient for returning to society,” says Artur Mkrtchyan.

The Soviet system, which did not correct but broke and thrashed the human beings, is still in practice in the Armenian Penitentiary Institutions.

Zhanna Aleksanyan mentions that Artur Mkrtchyan has been convicted for a crime he did not commit. “Over the years, the prosecutor`s office ignored the fact that Arthur Mkrtchyan was innocent. He was sentenced unjustly: first -- to death by shooting, and then—to life imprisonment. And, imagine, the judge who has published the verdict, Serzhik Avetisyan, wants to become the president of the Court of Cassation.”

The newly appointed Justice Minister Artak Zeynalyan publicly voiced his concern regarding early release of life prisoners who carried out their sentences for more than 20 years. He acknowledges that the number of life-sentenced prisoners in Armenia is disproportionately high compared to other states. Mr. Zeynalyan told the RFE / RL`s Armenian Service that the Government is considering mechanisms of dismantling the existing system:“

There will be announcements and concrete actions in this area in the near future.” The minister also said that he would be interested in learning the comments of the victims’ relatives and their lawyers on these issues. On behalf of life-sentenced prisoners, Arthur Mkrtchyan invites the Minister of Justice to visit the prison, to meet with the life-sentenced prisoners and involve them in discussions on the lifers.

Zhanna Alexanyan stresses with regret that the penitentiary institutions and the justice system do not change in Armenia at all. “They copy-paste the Soviet-style responses and reject the petitions for early release.”

She hopes that the new Justice Minister will be able to change the practice and, with use of civil and humane means, understand who of the convicts is who.

There are about 100 life-sentenced prisoners in Armenia, 30 of whom have been served their sentences for 20 years in prison and have the right to benefit from the early conditional release right. In reality, all of the courts have always rejected all the petitions and no one has ever been released.

Robert Ananyan
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human rights in closed institutions
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