Mushegh Saghatelian, a controversial former chief of Armenia’s prisons and a well known opposition activist was granted parole and set free on Wednesday, having spent two and a half years in prison on charges related to 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, RFE/RL reports.
Unlike some of the other oppositionists, like Nikol Pashinian, who remain in prison on charges related to March 1 violence, Saghatelian was perhaps the least likely and likable character to be let out of prison. He has been accused of committing grave human rights abuses while running the Armenian prisons in the 1990s and already been jailed in 2001. Most of those accusations stemmed from Saghatelian’s widely reported ill-treatment of prisoners and government critics during Ter-Petrosian’s 1991-1998 presidency. He never pleaded guilty to the accusations.
Saghatelian was also found guilty in 2001 of personally torturing several opposition leaders arrested in the wake of the September 1996 presidential election controversially won by Ter-Petrosian. Armenian human rights groups pointed out at the time that he was prosecuted only after publicly 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 oppositionist based in Vanadzor, was also jailed for five years on the same charges.
More than a dozen other Ter-Petrosian loyalists arrested following the February 2008 presidential election remain behind bars. The HAK considers them political prisoners and demands their quick release.
PS: On hearing about Saghatelian’s release, a friend remarked sarcastically – leaving war-hero Sasun Mikayelian in prison and releasing ex-prison-torturer is like a bad joke on the face of the opposition…