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Armenian Court Sentences Iranian Citizen

Gevork Hayrapetian, left, and Behnam Bagheri in the court.
Gevork Hayrapetian, left, and Behnam Bagheri in the court.
YEREVAN -- A Yerevan court has sentenced an Iranian citizen to 10 years in jail and an Armenian accomplice to 12 years for spying for Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The verdicts and jail sentences were announced on October 25 following a closed-door trial that lasted several months.

Behnam Bagheri, an Iranian citizen who the judge identified as an ethnic Azeri in the verdict, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trying to smuggle footage out of the country that contained "anti-Armenian propaganda that could be used to discredit Armenia's international prestige."

The prosecution said Bagheri received a disc with the video in question in September 2009 from retired Armenian Lieutenant Colonel Gevorg Hayrapetian.

Bagheri was arrested by Armenia's National Security Service late last year as he tried to cross the Armenian border into Iran. He was later charged with spying for Azerbaijan.

Hayrapetian, 47, a decorated veteran of the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan who worked for the Armenian Defense Ministry until 2007, was convicted of high treason and illegally keeping weapons.

Both men denied the charges throughout the trial. Their lawyers said no evidence had been found during the investigation and trial to convict their clients. They said they would appeal the verdicts.

Bagheri's brother, Javad, who attended the trial in Yerevan along with his mother, told RFE/RL that his 30-year-old brother had attended school for only five years, made his living as a sheep herder in a predominantly Azeri-populated region of Iran, and was visiting Armenia for the first time to see his girlfriend when he was detained.

Hayrapetian lawyer Seda Safarian said that after receiving the verdict the defense counsel will start making public the evidence that led to her client's conviction.

"You will see that there is nothing in this evidence," she told RFE/RL.