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Armenian Oppositionist Released From Jail

Mushegh Saghatelian is released from prison in Yerevan.
Mushegh Saghatelian is released from prison in Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- A well-known Armenian opposition figure has been set free after spending more than 30 months in prison on controversial charges stemming from the 2008 postelection unrest, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Mushegh Saghatelian, a controversial former chief of Armenia's prisons, was granted parole by a government commission dominated by senior law enforcement officials earlier this week.

Saghatelian was greeted today by relatives, friends, and fellow members of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) when he left Yerevan's Vartashen prison.

"I still do not accept the guilt" for crimes he was convicted of, he told RFE/RL. He said he would continue to fight for leadership in the country alongside the HAK and its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Saghatelian was among dozens of opposition activists arrested on March 1, 2008, during the break-up of Ter-Petrossian's nonstop demonstrations in Yerevan's Liberty Square. Like many others, Saghatelian was charged with "violently resisting arrest."

Prosecutors said he seriously injured a police officer during the predawn police operation against demonstrators.

Saghatelian was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 900,000 drams ($2,500) on corresponding charges in October 2008. Both he and the HAK have denounced the case as politically motivated.

Saghatelian, himself accused of committing human rights abuses while running the country's prisons in the 1990s, was first jailed in 2001 after challenging the government.

A Yerevan court convicted him of abuse of power, document fraud, and attempting to obtain "false testimony" implicating then-President Robert Kocharian in the 1999 parliament shootings.

Most of those accusations stemmed from Saghatelian's widely reported ill-treatment of prisoners and government critics during Ter-Petrossian's 1991-98 presidency.

He was accused, in particular, of having participated in an infamous 1995 beating of two dozen senior police officers suspected of plotting a coup d'etat.

Saghatelian was also found guilty in 2001 of torturing several opposition leaders arrested in the wake of the 1996 presidential election controversially won by Ter-Petrossian.

Armenian human rights groups pointed out at the time that he was prosecuted only after alleging that the 1999 parliament shootings were masterminded by Kocharian and then-Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.

Saghatelian is the second senior HAK figure to be released on parole in less than a month.

Ashot Manukian, the other freed opposition activist based in Vanadzor, was also jailed for five years on the same charges.

More than 12 Ter-Petrossian loyalists arrested following the February 2008 presidential election remain behind bars. The HAK considers them political prisoners and demands their quick release.