On April 13, the Administrative Court, chaired by Karen Zarikyan, issued a precedent that could change the fate of lifers: the decisions of the Prosecutor’s Office to suspend the life sentence twice were considered illegal.

When the verdict enters into force, the Prosecutor General’s Office will most likely have to abandon the accepted practice of complicating lives of lifers.

As it is known, the Prosecutor’s Office shows unjustified cruelty to those who have spent more than 20 years in prison, and regularly suspends the decisions of the Ministry of Justice’s Placement Commission to ease their detention regime. And this is happening when, according to the new penitentiary code that came into force in July 2019, a lifer can be transferred to semi-closed correctional facility after serving 15 years in case of demonstrating positive behavior, and, after 18 years in prison, he can be transfered into semi-open regime.

Prosecutors are taking the most inhumane steps to fit into the law. They even annul the decisions of the penitentiary administration to encouragement of lifers.

Such a decision was made by Prosecutor Garegin Isakhanyan, who oversees the legality of the punishments and other coercive measures applied by the RA Prosecutor General’s Office; people in penitentiaries say about him that he has the goal to harass the lifers.

In 2019, Arthur Kostanyan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent 28 years in prison, participated in a weightlifting competition organized in Nubarashen penitentiary and earned the encouragement of the prison administration.

Prosecutor Isakhanyan, surmising that no such competition took place, suspended the decision to encourage Arthur Kostanyan. “What does it mean it it did not happen if I had personally participated in it, personally caught that barbell and raised it?” Kostanyan complained to his lawyer.

In 2020, the Placement Commission at the central office of the penitentiary changed Artur Kostanyan’s detention regime, transferring him from a semi-closed to a semi-open institution in Vardashen penitentiary.

He spent 11 months, as he puts it, “in almost freedom.” He worked, studied. But 11 months later the decision of the Placement Commission was suspended and Kostanyan was taken back to Nubarashen penitentiary. A couple of months later, the Commission reaffirmed its decision and Kostanyan was taken to a semi-open regime, this time to Armavir penitentiary. But this decision was suspended as well and he was taken to a closed regime again. The convict appealed to the court, but this time the Commission itself reversed its previous decisions, giving way to the persistence of the Prosecutor’s Office.

“I have not had any violations in 28 years. Once, a long time ago, when Aram Hovhannisyan was the head of the prison, they took me to the carcer for no reason, just to register at least one violation. When I was taken back to the prison, it felt as if it were a new verdict, but for what crime?” Arthur Kostanyan passed this question to Forrights.am through his relative, asking to make it public. He concludes that either the Prosecutor’s Office does not want the lifers to move forward in their lives, or they get in touch with the victims.

“It is noteworthy that the placement commission is a special professional body, which has the authority to determine the type of correctional facility, and the prosecutor has only a supervisory function.” This is written in the decision of the administrative court of 13.04.2022

Simply put, the court found that the Prosecutor’s Office had no right to suspend the decision of the Placement Commission for the second time, as this would lead to a violation of the constitutional principle of legal certainty.

This decision was made by the Administrative Court chaired by Karen Zarikyan, considering the case of lifer Igor Ohanyan against the decisions of the Prosecutor’s Office.

In March 2020, the Placement Commission at the central body of the Penitentiary Service decided to transfer Igor Ohanyan, who had spent 27 years in prison, from a semi-closed correctional facility to a semi-open one, the Kosh penitentiary.

Ohanyan was one of the first detainees whose regime was eased. “After going to Kosh, Isakhanyan demanded my husband’s case. He returned it to the administration a month later, and everyone was surprised that he did not find it wrong. But, after staying in Kosh for 9 months and demonstrating positive behavior, he was closed again on February 23, 2021, then in 9 months they eased the regime and changed it to closed regime again.

There were no violations, he was completely positively described, he has participated to everything good: sports events, church, etc. He was told, “Dear Igor, if all the prisoners were like you, we would not have a problem.”

Then the suspension was immediately sent by the same Isakhanyan and they took him to Nubarashen again. The explanation was that Igor has positive behavior but no positive dynamics. But it is absurd,” says Igor Ohanyan’s wife.

The prosecutor told Igor Ohanyan, ‘who did he participate for, he participated for himself, who did he work for, for himself, there is nothing positive there’. “And there is no one to ask a question, Mr. Isakhanyan, and who for should he have done all that, if not himself? He wrote 30 pages of justification, on which it is not worth wasting time to read: it is full of absurdity,” says Ohanyan’s wife.

The prosecutor’s office objected to Igor Ohanyan’s lawsuit. “By law, the prosecutor is not limited to making a decision to suspend the commission’s decision and file a review petition in case the commission leaves its decision unchanged after submitting a review petition.” However, the court upheld the claim.

“In fact, the trial in Igor Ohanyan’s case will be of strategic importance if the decision enters into legal force. We are waiting for that, after which we will apply to the Placement Commission to reconsider the decisions on Arthur Kostanyan and Igor Ohanyan by the force of a new circumstance,” says Robert Revazyan, a lawyer representing the interests of the lifers.

It was not clarified why the Placement Commission suspended its own decisions. Did you apply to the Ministry of Justice in this regard? To our question Revazyan answered: “Yes, I submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Justice, I challenged it, they answered that they did not have the authority to influence the decisions of the Placement Commission; the Ministry has no role in this issue.”

Deputy Minister of Justice Arti Sargsyan answered the same. “The Ministry of Justice has no influence on the decisions of the Placement Commission.”

We can only assume that the Placement Commission simply retreated, without even waiting for the court decision, just to get rid of the headache to deal with the prosecutor’s office.

Syuzan Simonyan

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