Lebanese-born opposition figure and prominent veteran of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) War, Jirair Sefilian, 51, was sentenced to 10 years and five months in prison on Tuesday. He was charged alongside six other defendants—Gevorg Safaryan, Sasunik Giragosyan, Hrayr Topchyan, Nerses Poghosyan, Galust Grigoryan, and Hovhannes Petrosyan—all of whom received sentences ranging anywhere from two years to five and a half years by judge Tatevik Grigoryan.
According to a news item by RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Petrosyan’s sentence was the shortest, as he was the sole defendant who testified against Sefilian, saying the latter told him to “prepare for the seizure of a television tower in Yerevan.”
Many of the country’s independent media outlets have released op-eds criticizing the verdict. “Serge Sarkisian is not sentencing Jirair Sefilian,” writes Mher Arshakyan for CivilNet, “he is condemning the human drive to pursue change. These people were the last ‘crumbs’ of street [grassroots] fighting.”
The sentence comes nearly two years after Sefilian, the leader of the opposition group Founding Parliament (formerly Pre-Parliament), was arrested in 2016 on charges of plotting an coup against the Armenian government targeting “strategic” facilities, like communications towers and a military base just outside the capital. His 2016 was the catalyst behind a two-week standoff with security forces, in which Sefilian’s followers seized a police compound in Yerevan, demanding his release. The debacle left three police officers dead. Yesterday’s sentencing was based on charges against Sefilian from 2015 to 2018.
According to an account in Hetq.am, Sefilian was repeatedly banned from the courtroom during the proceedings for arguing with Grigoryan, stating at one point, “We do not have a court. Do you think you are a judge? Are you the performer? Do not be afraid when I speak.” Sefilian and all other defendants except Petrosyan strongly denied the accusations against them as politically motivated and have called the case against them a “fairy tale.”