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Members Of Armenian Armed Group Jailed Over 2016 Hostage Crisis

Retired army Colonel Varuzhan Avetisian (shown in 2018) led the raid to seize a police compound in Yerevan in 2016.

YEREVAN -- A court in Armenia has issued verdicts against members of an armed group, known as Sasna Tsrer, who seized a police base in the capital in 2016 and took hostages.

The court on February 24 sentenced seven members of the group to prison terms between six and eight years.

One member, Smbat Barseghian, was found guilty of killing two police officers and sentenced to 25 years.

Charges against Araik Khandoyan were dropped due to his death. Another defendant, Armen Bilian, who was charged with killing a police officer, was acquitted.

Most of the more than two dozen members of Sasna Tsrer, a fringe opposition group composed of a number of prominent Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans, were set free pending the outcome of their ongoing trial after the change of government in Armenia in 2018.

Many of them were released under the personal guarantees of parliament members.

In July 2016, the armed group led by retired army Colonel Varuzhan Avetisian seized a police compound in Yerevan's Erebuni district and demanded that then-President Serzh Sarkisian free jailed nationalist politician Zhirayr Sefilian and step down.

A two-week standoff with security forces left three police officers dead.

A political party formed around the Sasna Tsrer movement took part in parliamentary elections in December 2018. The party failed to clear the 5 percent threshold to enter the legislature by securing less than 2 percent of the vote.