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Lifers in Yerevan Prison on Hunger Strike, Will Stop Only If Cases Are Reviewed, Relatives Say

52 prisoners serving life sentences in Yerevan's Nubarashen penitentiary started a joint hunger strike on October 12 demanding that their cases be reviewed. 30-year-old lifer Artur Kocharyan's relatives, Fenya and Garnik Kocharyans, told Epress.am on Wednesday that the prisoners will only stop their protest on one condition: if a Serzh Sargsyan-authorized official announced on TV their demands will be considered, the issue will be resolved. 

Inmate Kocharyan was sentenced to a life in prison in 2004 at the age of 19; he was found guilty of murdering a fellow serviceman in the military. The prisoner, however, has denied the accusations.

“The strikers have submitted a 10-point petition justifying the demand for reviewing [their cases] and suggested possible solutions. [Authorities] only need to exercise the law,” Garnik Kocharyan said.

The lifers' relatives have summed up the ten demands in three main groups: first, several death row inmates received life sentences according to a presidential decree when Armenia abolished the death penalty in 2003. Then-President Robert Kocharyan, however, had no right to give such an order since, according to the applicable law at the time, people could only be subjected to criminal punishment by a court decision. Meanwhile, Kocharyan's order deprived the prisoners of the opportunity to appeal against the verdict in court. 

Second, 2011 amendments to Armenia’s Criminal Code set a punishment of 12–20 years in prison for murder (when previously the options were sentences of 8-15 years or life), which should have resulted in mitigation of a number of lifers' sentences. If, for example, the inmates were sentenced in present day, they would have most likely received  jail times of 16, 17, 18 years. The amendments, however, were not applied to the lifers, and their sentences were not revisited.

And third, according to the law on early releases, lifers who've served 20 or more years in prison should have the right to apply for a parole. Ten of the strikers, Fenya Kocharyan said, have been in prison for more than 20 years; however, the law has not been applied to them.

Commenting on Armenian Deputy Justice Minister Suren Krmoyan's visit to the prison, Garnik Kocharyan said: “The Deputy Minister has promised reforms; he has, for example, promised to extend the visiting hours, give more opportunities for phone calls. The hunger strikers, however, neither have complaints regarding these issues nor the prison administration. Krmoyan tells them to stop the strike and 'everything will be fine.' We've been hearing these words for more than ten years; they do not inspire confidence anymore.”