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Jailed Armenian Oppositionists Start Hunger Strike; Demand to Be Transferred to Individual Cell

Armenian political prisoners Shant Harutyunyan and Vardan Vardanyan have started a hunger strike at the "Vardashen" penitentiary, demanding to be transferred to an individual cell, Shahen Harutyunyan, Shant Harutyunyan's son, wrote on his personal Facebook page on Friday. Shant Harutyunyan began the strike on June 8, while Vardanyan joined him on June 12.

“During these five days, [Shant Harutyunyan’s] hunger strike wasn't made public, since it was agreed that his demand would be met by Friday. However, today, June 12, they failed to keep their promise, and my father, at his own request, was transferred to a special cell for hunger strikers,” Shahen Harutyunyan wrote. 

According to information available to Armenian daily “Haykakan Zhamanak,” following the entry into force of the sentence against Harutyunyan and Vardanyan, the prisoners were transferred to a semi-open regime cell block, where they have been having security related issues. Gor Ghlechyan, spokesperson for the RA Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Department, informed “Haykakan Zhamanak” that Shant Harutyunyan's appeal to be transferred to an individual cell is currently being reviewed by the allocation committee.

Recall, on October 17, 2014, Shant Harutyunyan and his 13 friends were found guilty for acts of hooliganism during a November 5, 2013 protest. Albert Margaryan and Vahe Mkrtchyan were also charged for using violence against a representative of the authorities. 

Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan sentenced Shant Harutyunyan to 6 years imprisonment, Albert Margaryan also received 6 years, Vahe Mkrtchyan 7 years, Liparit Poghosyan 5 years, Vardan Vardanyan 5 years, Hayk Harutyunyan 4 years 6 months, Alek Poghosyan 4 years, Mkrtich Hovhannisyan 4 years, Armen Hovhannisyan 2 years, Sevak Mnatsakanyan 1 years 6 months, Tigran Petrosyan 1 year, and Misak Arakellyan was fined fifty times the minimum salary. Tigran Petrosyan and Sevak Mnatsakanyan have already been released from jail.

The defendants do not admit guilt, noting that there were provocateurs, and plainclothes police officers incited the conflict during the rally. Several local human rights activists and international organizations have recognized the oppositionists as political prisoners.