YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Jirayr Sefilian, a radical opposition figure, was sentenced to 10.5 years in prison on Tuesday nearly two years after being arrested on charges of plotting an armed revolt against the Armenian government.
A court in Yerevan also handed down prison sentences ranging from 2 to 5.5. years to six other defendants who went on trial with Sefilian last May.
The shortest jail term was given to Hovannes Petrosian, the sole defendant who has testified against Sefilian. Petrosian has said that the latter had told him to prepare for the seizure for a television tower in Yerevan.
The prosecutors claim that Sefilian formed an armed group to attack this and several other “strategic” facilities, including a military base just outside the capital, with the aim of forcing the Armenian authorities to take “certain actions.” They also say that he planned to organize “mass disturbances” in Yerevan during the April 2015 commemorations of the centenary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Sefilian and all other defendants except Petrosian have strongly denied these accusations as politically motivated.
Speaking at the end of his trial, Sefilian called the criminal case against him and the other men a “fairy tale.” The jailed leader of Founding Parliament, a radical opposition movement, also accused the presiding judge, Tatevik Grigorian, of resorting to “illegal actions” throughout the trial.
Sefilian has frequently and bitterly argued with Grigorian during court hearings in the high-profile case. The Lebanese-born oppositionist has been repeatedly banned from the courtroom as a result. The 30-year-old judge has also sanctioned his and other defendants’ lawyers for contempt of court.
The lawyers, backed by some human rights activists, have decried what they call serious violations of due process. They have insisted that the prosecution has failed to substantiate its grave accusations. Grigorian claimed the opposite in her ruling, however.
Sefilian, 51, was arrested in June 2016 less than a month before three dozen members and supporters of Founding Parliament seized a police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district to demand his release and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. The gunmen laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead. They are now standing three separate trials.
Sefilian was the commander of the Shushi special military battalion during 1991-1994 Artsakh liberation war and played a significant role during the Battle of Shusi. Sefilian has been a vocal critic of both the current and previous Armenian governments. In 2006, he was arrested shortly after setting up an anti-government union of fellow war veterans. The authorities claimed that they planned to mount an armed uprising against then President Robert Kocharian.
Sefilian was cleared of the coup charge during his subsequent trial. Still, he spent 18 months in prison for allegedly illegal arms possession.
Sefilian was again detained along with his four associates in 2015, ahead of a series of anti-government rallies planned by them in Yerevan. They were charged with plotting street violence but were set free a month later.