While there are little to no updates related to Armenian POWs being held captive in Baku for over 1,000 days, the Armenian government has been quietly filling up its own prisons by cracking down on any form of political opposition.
Today, there are more than a dozen political prisoners from opposition parties being held on frivolous charges and accusations, more than the previous two administrations combined. Earlier this year, both Google and Apple issued warnings that the Armenian government is actively using Israeli phone hacking software “Pegasus” to spy on political figures in the country.
Mainstream media in Armenia has provided little to no coverage of the status and sheer number of political prisoners held by the Armenian government. In addition to the arrests, over a dozen political and community leaders who have been critical of the Armenian government’s inaction related to the humanitarian disaster in Artsakh have been barred from entering the country. Yet, foreign organizations such as FreedomHouse, continue to rate Armenia as “Free.”
These individuals, namely Mamikon Aslanyan, Suren Manukyan, Mikayel Arzumanyan, Grigory Khachaturov, and Armen Ashotyan, are currently held as political prisoners within Armenia.
On December 15, 2021, Mamikon Aslanyan, the former mayor of Vanadzor, was arrested and formally charged, as stated by the Investigative Committee. Aslanyan faced allegations related to multiple sections of the Criminal Code, including Article 309, Article 3, Article 308, Article 2 (in two instances), Article 314, Article 1, and Article 308, concerning abuses of position and acts of official forgery.
The Investigative Committee’s communication highlighted that during the period spanning from October 10, 2016, to October 10, 2021, Aslanyan purportedly committed acts of abusing and circumventing his official powers, alongside engaging in official falsification motivated by personal interests. The report further outlined that Aslanyan altered the designated use of a piece of land without proper authorization, leading to considerable harm to the community. Authorities also revealed that the former community leader was duty-bound to prevent the unauthorized construction of graves, but he failed to fulfill his official obligations, resulting in the construction of these graves. Two of his subordinates, the community’s legal counsel and chief architect, were also brought up on charges, although unlike Aslanyan, they remained at liberty. The chief architect continued to serve in his role.
On March 1, 2023, the Anti-Corruption Court once again turned down the lawyers’ mediation to modify the restraining order and release Mamikon Aslanyan. This instance, the court reasoned that given Aslanyan’s 15 months in custody, there was a potential risk of his exerting undue influence on witnesses.
It should be noted a political alliance established under the name of Mamikon Aslanyan took part in the local government elections held on December 5, 2021. This alliance succeeded in surpassing the required threshold, securing 38.70 percent of the total votes. Throughout both the pre- and post-election periods, Aslanyan categorically dismissed the possibility of forming a coalition with the Civil Contract Party.
On August 11, 2022, Suren Manukyan, a member of the Supreme Body of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and MP of the 6th convocation of the National Assembly, was arrested.
Suren Manukyan is accused of kidnapping the father of the chairman of the “Free Democrats” party Khachatur Kokobelyan and extorting a particularly large amount of money from his sons. Manukyan’s arrest was executed as a precautionary measure within the ongoing criminal investigation. He been deprived of freedom since August 11, 2022.
During the preliminary inquiry, Suren Manukyan revealed the existence of two videos that he intended to disclose exclusively during the open court proceedings of the case. He claimed that these videos would shed light on all facets of the incident. He had refrained from publishing them earlier due to closed court sessions and a lack of confidence in the pre-trial authority.
Manukyan was charged under Article 191, Part 2, Clause 5 of the Criminal Code, which pertains to group kidnappings.
On August 10, 2023, the Court of General Jurisdiction of the Tavush Province decided to maintain Suren Manukyan’s preventative detention and extend his imprisonment for an additional three months.
According to an announcement from the media service of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, on the day of his arrest, Suren Manukyan was invited to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Armenia in another case to participate in the investigative operation as a victim, but on the way, he was arrested with the use of violence on suspicion of his involvement in the kidnapping incident.
On August 30, 2022, Lieutenant General Mikayel Arzumanyan, who assumed the role of commander of the Artsakh Defense Army during the 44-day conflict, was arrested.
Mikayel Arzumanyan has been detained sins September 1, 2022. He faces allegations of dereliction of duty in connection with the planning of the defense of the city of Shushi and its surrounding areas from October 30 to November 9, 2020. These actions resulted in the complete takeover of Shushi by enemy armed forces, leading to casualties and injuries among Armenian units.
Furthermore, Mikayel Arzumanyan is charged with issuing a “retreat” order to personnel who had initially captured the Arega hill of Talish and nearby strategic positions in the early days of the conflict. During that period, he held the position of deputy head of the main intelligence department.
On April 25, 2023, the Anti-Corruption Court decided to extend the detention of Mikayel Arzumanyan by an additional three months. This marked the initial closed-door court hearing in his case, a decision made by the judge and prosecutors.
The prosecution’s main argument for the extension of his detention centered around Mikayel Arzumanyan’s previous role as the head of the Security Forces and his significant reputation, which they believed could potentially impede the ongoing investigation.
In addition to the charges of military negligence, Arzumanyan is also facing accusations of abuse of power under a newly introduced statute, a more severe offense that carries a prison sentence ranging from 7 to 13 years.
Mikayel Arzumanyan assumed the position of Defense Army commander on October 27, 2020, following serious injuries sustained by Artsakh Defense Minister Jalal Harutyunyan during the conflict. This occurred one month into the war, when the state of the army was exceptionally challenging.
On March 15, 2023, Major General Grigory Khachaturov, the former commander of the 3rd Army Corps of the RA Armed Forces, was arrested and subsequently held in detention.
Khachaturov’s arrest is linked to the case involving former Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan. He faces allegations of money laundering. The indictment asserts that during his tenure as the military unit’s commander from 2006 to 2010, Khachaturov illicitly acquired real estate and then proceeded to legitimize these assets.
According to a statement from the Public Relations Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the ongoing investigation led by the National Security Service obtained factual evidence. On February 20, 2023, the investigative body submitted a formal request to the overseeing prosecutor, urging the initiation of criminal proceedings against Grigory Khachaturov. His alleged crimes involve the large-scale legalization of unlawfully acquired immovable property through abuse of his official position, which constitutes money laundering.
It is worth noting that on February 21, 2023, the Anti-Corruption Court denied the motion to detain Grigory Khachaturov, leading to his release from the courtroom.
However, on May 15, during a confidential session, the Anti-Corruption Court decided to prolong Grigory Khachaturov’s period of detention by three months. The closed-door court session lasted approximately six hours.
Khachaturov’s legal team lodged an appeal against this decision. Initially, the Appellate Anti-Corruption Court indicated that the complaint would be reviewed through written procedures, with a decision slated for publication on June 22. Unexpectedly, the court opted for an oral procedure instead.
Subsequently, on July 19, the Anti-Corruption Court ruled to extend Grigory Khachaturov’s period of detention for an additional three months, thereby mandating his custody until November 15.
On June 15, 2023, Armen Ashotyan, Vice President of the The Republican Party of Armenia, was arrested and subsequently held in detention for a span of two months. The Anti-corruption court granted approval to the request put forth by the pre-investigative body.
Ashotyan faces multiple charges, including the abuse of his official position within the Medical University, engaging in money laundering, assisting in the misuse of official authority, and orchestrating the theft of property.
As per the RA Investigative Committee’s findings, it was determined that Armen Ashotyan, in his capacity as both the chairman of the board of trustees of the “Yerevan Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University” fund and the RA Minister of Education and Science, encouraged Mikayel Narimanyan, the rector of the fund, to exploit his official powers. This led to significant financial harm amounting to AMD 38,658,200 inflicted upon the “Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University of Yerevan” fund.
Additionally, Ashotyan was responsible for orchestrating the misappropriation of AMD 185,606,000 that had been collected as membership fees for the “Yerevan Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University” trade union. These funds were intended for transfer to the aforementioned organization. Notably, on April 26, 2014, A. Ashotyan was reappointed to the position of RA Minister of Education and Science by the decree of the RA President. Furthermore, on April 17, 2015, he assumed the role of chairman for the board of trustees of the “Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University of Yerevan” Foundation, as referred to hereinafter as the Foundation.
Political prisoners are individuals who have been incarcerated or detained due to their political beliefs, activities, or affiliations rather than any criminal behavior. They are often held by a government or ruling authority as a means to suppress dissent, opposition, or activism that challenges the established political order. The detention of political prisoners is generally considered a violation of human rights and a breach of principles such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association.