Armenian Oppositionist Freed In General Amnesty

An Armenian opposition activist was set free on Monday more than two years after being arrested on charges which he and his supporters consider politically motivated.

Armenia’s Court of Appeals freed Tigran Arakelian, a leader of the youth wing of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), after clearing him one of the two assault charges and shortening from six to three years a prison sentence given to him by a lower court.

The partial acquittal made Arakelian eligible for a general amnesty that was declared by the Armenian authorities earlier this month. The amnesty was also applied to Artak Karapetian, one of three other HAK activists who clashed, together with Arakelian, with police officers in downtown Yerevan in August 2011 under disputed circumstances.

Karapetian received a three-year jail term last year, a sentence upheld by the Court of Appeals. The latter gave shorter and suspended sentences to the two other HAK youths. Unlike Arakelian, they have remained at large pending a final court verdict on the high-profile case.

All four men have strongly denied attacking policemen throughout the criminal and judicial proceedings. They say that they themselves were beaten up and detained after the policemen tried to arbitrarily search another man.

Arakelian, whom the HAK and local human rights groups have regarded as a political prisoner, walked free in the courtroom despite publicly rejecting the amnesty at a court hearing last week.

“They caught me illegally and they freed me illegally,” he told journalists after receiving a hero’s welcome from scores of supporters that again packed the courtroom. He said he should have been acquitted altogether.

Arakelian’s lawyer, Mushegh Shushanian, said he will therefore appeal the verdict at the higher Court of Cassation.