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Former Armenian Military Official Jailed For Leaking Document

Opposition rallies on the streets of Yerevan in early 2008

Opposition rallies on the streets of Yerevan in early 2008

YEREVAN -- A former senior Armenian Defense Ministry official has been jailed for two years for disclosing a secret government order that sanctioned the military's involvement in suppressing the 2008 opposition protests in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Along with the sentence given to Armen Sarkisian, the Yerevan court on May 4 also gave a one-year suspended jail term to one of Sarkisian's former subordinates, Lyusia Ayvazian, who admitted giving him a copy of the government order, which was signed by then-Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.

The order was published by the pro-opposition daily "Haykakan Zhamanak" in December. Sarkisian, who headed the Defense Ministry's construction department until September 2008, and Ayvazian, were arrested shortly afterward. Sarkisian subsequently admitted leaking to the newspaper what the authorities consider classified information.

Harutiunian's directive was issued in February 2008 immediately after outgoing President Robert Kocharian ordered top security officials to thwart what he called attempts by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian to "seize power by illegal means."

Kocharian was referring to nonstop demonstrations in Yerevan staged by Ter-Petrossian following the hotly disputed February 19, 2008, presidential election.

The directive placed the country's armed forces on high alert and ordered the Defense Ministry to form special groups of officers and hand them weapons. Harutiunian also instructed the then-commander of the army's Yerevan garrison, General Yuri Khachaturov, to form a special command structure with essentially unlimited control over military units stationed in and around the capital.

Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress denounced the document as illegal, saying that the so-called "administration of garrison commander" effectively assumed the powers of the army's General Staff in violation of the constitution. The government rejected these claims in a February letter to the opposition alliance.

Both Sarkisian and Ayvazian pleaded guilty to the criminal charges leveled against them as their trial began on April 23.

"I am asking you to take into consideration my background, family situation, and hand down a just verdict," Sarkisian told the judge on May 4.

But the court decided to free only Ayvazian. Sarkisian's lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, condemned the ruling, saying that his client is no more guilty than Ayvazian and should have been treated similarly.

"We are seeing a violation of not only judicial but ethical norms, which means that the prosecuting side is executing an order and doesn't care about the defendant's reputation and health condition," Arsenian said in a verbal exchange with the chief trial prosecutor, Aram Amirzadian.

Arsenian told RFE/RL afterward that the high-profile case against Sarkisian is "fabricated." He said Sarkisian pleaded guilty only in the hope of avoiding imprisonment.