Council to Protect: Human rights groups collaborate in defense of imprisoned soldiers

A collection of human rights protection agencies, including representatives of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, have formed a council for the defense of Razmik Sargsyan, Araik Zalyan and Musa Serobyan, soldiers sentenced to 15 years each for the murder of two other soldiers last year in Karabakh.

(The soldiers were convicted of killing Hovsep Mktrumyan and Roman Yeghiazaryan, whose bodies were found in early January, 2004 in a reservoir near where the soldiers were stationed. Zalyan and Serobyan have maintained their innocence. Sargsyan confessed to having a role in the murders, but later said he was tortured into making the confession, which also implicated the other two. Sargsyan has been on a hunger strike since August 12, in protest of all their convictions. See links below for related stories).

The human rights’ groups claim that the young soldiers are recent examples in a long line of conscripts who suffer mistreatment, violence and, in this case, outright lawlessness that is widespread in the Armenian army.

A statement by the council charges the Military Prosecutor’s Office with wrongly influencing the investigation, conviction and all related legal issues concerning the soldiers. It has done so, the group alleges, in an effort to protect company commander Ivan Grigoryan, who defenders of the convicted say is responsible for the murders.

The council also claims that the court has done nothing to suppress threats made against the defendants’ families and attorneys by supporters of the prosecution.

“The fact that the court takes no measures against such activities proves the court dependence on the Military Prosecutor’s Office,” the council’s statement says.

The council (as well as lawyers for the defendants) also criticized the court for not calling Grigoryan to testify. Seyran Ohanyan, Defense Minister of Nagorno-Karabagh Republic sent a petition not to cause an action against Grigoryan, saying that the Karabakh war veteran is "a national hero and has regrets".

“What Ivan Grigoryan regrets has remained unanswered both during the preliminary and court investigations,” the council statement says.

Supporters of Zalyan, Sargsyan and Serobyan have organized many press conferences and public appearances, including protest demonstrations in front of the Presidential Residence and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

“We will declare war against the actions of the Military Prosecutor’s Office,” says human rights activist Artur Sakunts. “The only way is the formation of the council and the public actions that will be targeted not only at protecting the young people, but will also engage all those citizens who have suffered from the Military Prosecutor’s Office.”

Meanwhile, an appeal’s court has suspended hearing Sargsyan’s case due to his bad health brought on by the hunger strike.

Lawyers defending Sargsyan – Zaruhi Postanjyan, Stepan Voskanyan and Ashot Atoyan – have not seen their client since August 25. Prison officials will not allow them to meet in Sargsyan’s cell, and prison officals say he is too weak to walk to the attorney-client meeting room.

“Our right as defenders has been violated. We are deprived of an opportunity to meet our defendant for 22 days. If his condition is that bad why they do not move him to hospital?” complains Postanjyan, who believes his client isolation is meant to apply psychological pressure.

The prison head says Sargsyan’s health is not so bad and that he will be moved to hospital should his health be endangered.

On Monday, attorneys received a note from prison authorities saying in part: “medical documents regarding health of imprisoned people are not given; the medical cards are secret documents.”

Lawyers for Sargsyan say the 19-year-old is suffering kidney failure, cannot walk, and can barely speak.