16 convicts left for the front․ “Now I am more needed at the border”

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Recently, Judge David Balayan made an unprecedented judgment․ The 58-year-old prisoner of conscience, who was detained in “Armavir” penitentiary for almost a year, was released on bail in order to go to the front. The defendant, who according to the defense counsel is a person who has passed a rather long military path, personally petitioned the court to change his pre-trial detention, emphasizing that at this moment his need will be felt more at the battlefield.

“Judge Balayan had mentioned that very basis in the decision as ‘public interest’. My client paid the bail on the same day and, at the moment, he is already on the front line,” said Defender Mary Alaverdyan in a conversation with Forrights.

Judge Nelli Baghdasaryan also granted the same kind of verdict. She decided to change the measure of restraint of the accused, but in this case — taking a signature about not leaving the country.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told Forrights that, as of yesterday, the pre-trial detention of 12 convicts had already been changed on the grounds of going to the front. Four convicts were released on parole, again on the same grounds:

“A very individual approach is shown, taking into account the delicacy of the problem,” the Prosecutor’s Office emphasized.

The judges’ decisions were extraordinary, as since September 27, when martial law was declared in the country, a large number of convicts sent petitions to the Penitentiary Service, the Ministry of Justice, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Nona Navikyan, the head of the public relations department of the penitentiary, mentioned that no special legal regulations are envisaged on those applications.

 “There are no special legal regulations on the possibility of conscripts and detainees wishing to take part in the Artsakh liberation war. At the same time, please note that the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia has no authority to suspend, postpone or release a sentence, or to change or eliminate detention as a measure of restraint,” Navikyan told Forrights.

The Ministry of Justice added that, at the moment, there are no plans to make changes in the law or discuss the applications of convicts.

A few days ago, Narek-V (the name has been changed), a convict of Nubarashen penitentiary, who has been imprisoned for four years, alerted Forrights that he also has applied to enlist in the army, but has not yet received an answer.

“From the very first day of listening about the events taking place at the border, I have expressed a desire to go to the front line. I myself served in the army and finished my service with the rank of sergeant. Now I definitely feel more needed at the border than sitting in these four walls. We are going crazy: we are not able to receive normal news, we are not informed, and we are going crazy in this cell,” the convict told Forrights.

According to Narek, there are many people who express such a wish, but the institution does not give any hope that their applications will be satisfied. The convicts do not hope for freedom, they emphasize that they will return at the end of the war and will continue to serve their sentences in prisons.

Human rights activist Vardan Harutyunyan describes the decisions to change the pre-trial detention of detainees on such a basis as unprecedented, emphasizing that he does not remember such a decision since the independence of Armenia. He praised the move by the judges as, instead of being idle in prison, defendants who are knowledgeable about the military can take part in the war and form public interest:

“If the state wants, ways of release can always be found, from parole to completely different ways. There is no need to fall into bureaucratic vortex. The ministry, referring to some bureaucratic norms, says that there is no solution. Meanwhile, if we do not want to solve any problem, the bureaucracy allows us,” the human rights activist told Forrights.

Arshak Gasparyan, President of the “Social Justice” NGO, meanwhile, is not in favor of sending convicts to the front. He explains that the prisoners in other countries are sent to the army because they want to solve the overcrowding of prisons, they try to reduce the cost of prisoners at the expense of taxpayers.”

The human rights activist points out that if the convict really wants to be useful in any issue in a war situation, the “Support to the Convict” foundation has a job to do here:

“The foundation’s program must be engaged in providing useful employment and assistance to the front line. The same networks that citizens operate in different parts of the city can also be done by women and men of Abovyan penitentiary, even if they are in a cell-type regime. This is what the Ministry of Justice should do.”

Martial law and general mobilization have been declared in Armenia since September 27. And, despite the announcement of the mobilization, a large number of people, without waiting for a telephone call, go to the military commissariats themselves, express a wish and submit an application to go to the front line as volunteers.

Roza Vardanyan