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‘Only 17’ Inmates Died in Armenian Prisons in 2017, Penitentiary Department Representative Says

“Only 17 people” died in Armenian prisons over the past year, 2 of whom committed suicide; 7 inmates died due to health issues, Tigran Sahakyan, a representative of the Penitentiary Department of the Justice Ministry, stated during a press conference on Friday, firing back at members of the Prison Monitoring Group Zaruhi Hovhannisyan and Robert Revazyan who commented that the list of diseases incompatible with detention should be revised, since prisoners are “neither treated properly nor released.”

“I don’t think that the prisoners’ diseases should be linked with the condition of detention, and I don’t agree that the ministry is inconsistent with their treatment. Only 17 people inmates died in 2017,” Sahakyan argued, adding that 1740 prisoners were transferred o various medical institutions “over the past year alone.”

Human rights activist Zaruhi Hovhannisyan recalled that at the end of 2017, the prison monitoring group visited the women’s prison in Abovyan, where they learned of the death of one inmate and found out that another woman had been taken to an intensive care unit.

“The group is convinced that the full responsibility for this death and the deterioration of another inmate’s health lies solely with the Justice Ministry and the Penitentiary Department,” Hovhannisyan charged. She added that the woman who had ended up in intensive care had earlier applied for an early release; however, she is currently unable to attend the court hearings due to her health state.

Robert Revazyan, for his part, stated that over the past two years, the authorities have done nothing to to resolve prison overcrowding; “Yerevan’s Nubarashen jail is as overcrowded as in the past years.” In addition, he went on, the ground floor of Nubarashen is “practically unlivable” but continues to house the cells designated for hunger strikers.

“Some of the cells in Nubarashen are in a pretty good conditions, but others are nearly dilapidated. Often, prisoners repair the cells on their own expense. On the one hand, it is good that the detention conditions improve for some prisoners, but the cells are not renovated with state funds, which is fraught with discrimination and corruption issues,” Revazyan said.

What’s more, he continued, the authorities do not take any serious measures to eliminate hierarchical relations among inmates; “Prison officials even say that this system is good for keeping the prison under control.”

Tigran Sahakyan acknowledged the existence of problems with prison conditions and promised that the issues “will eventually be resolved. But this requires time and finances.” He recalled that the jail in Armavir, for example, was built to help solve the problem of overpopulation.

“Building new prisons is not a solution; we need to focus not on punishing a person, but on preventing crimes,” Robert Revazyan countered.