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Armenian Prosecutor Demands Lengthy Jail Terms For Armed Group Members

Armenia prosecutor Artur Chakhoian
Armenia prosecutor Artur Chakhoian

A prosecutor in a high-profile trial in Armenia has demanded lengthy prison terms for members of an armed group that seized a police base in the capital Yerevan in 2016 and made political demands.

A majority of the more than two dozen members of Sasna Tsrer, a fringe opposition group involving a number of prominent 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 personal guarantees of parliament members.

After seizing the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in July 2016 the gunmen led by retired army Colonel Varuzhan Avetisian demanded that then-President Serzh Sarkisian free jailed nationalist politician Zhirayr Sefilian and step down.

They laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead and was accompanied by hostage-taking.

In his closing arguments in court on August 12, prosecuting attorney Artur Chakhoian requested that Avetisian and another leader of the group, Pavel Manukian, be sentenced to 8 years and 9 months, and 9 years, respectively.

The prosecutor demanded life imprisonment and 21 years in jail for Sasna Tsrer members Smbat Barseghian and Armen Bilian, respectively, accusing them of committing the murders of police officers.

He sought between 8 and 9 years in prison for other members of the group on trial.

During the trial, Sasna Tsrer members have defied the case for the prosecution, claiming that they exercised their right to uprising against what they viewed as an oppressive regime.

A political party formed around the Sasna Tsrer movement and, led by Avetisian, took part in Armenia’s early parliamentary elections in December 2018. The party failed to clear the 5-percent threshold to enter the legislature by polling less than 2 percent of the vote.

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