YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A former senior Defense Ministry official was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday for disclosing a secret government order that sanctioned the Armenian military’s involvement in the suppression of the 2008 opposition protests in Yerevan.
A district court in Yerevan also gave a one-year suspended prison sentence to one of Armen Sargsian’s former subordinates, Lyusia Ayvazian, who admitted giving him a copy of the order signed by then Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian.
It was published by the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” last December. Sargsian, who headed the Defense Ministry’s construction department until September 2008, and Ayvazian were arrested shortly afterwards. Sargsian subsequently admitted leaking what the authorities consider a state secret to the paper.
Harutiunian’s written directive was issued in February 2008 immediately after the outgoing President Robert Kocharian ordered Armenia’s top security officials to thwart what he called attempts by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian to “seize power by illegal means.” Kocharian referred to non-stop demonstrations staged by Ter-Petrosian following the hotly disputed February 19 presidential election.
The directive placed Armenia’s armed forces on high alert and ordered the Defense Ministry to form special groups of officers and hand them weapons. Harutiunian also instructed the then commander of the army’s Yerevan garrison, General Yuri Khachaturov, to form a special command structure with essentially unlimited control over military units stationed in and around the Armenian capital.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) denounced the leaked document as illegal, saying that the so-called “administration of garrison commander” effectively assumed the powers of the army’s General Staff in violation of Armenia’s constitution. The Armenian government rejected these claims in a February letter to the opposition alliance.
Both Sargsian and Ayvazian pleaded guilty to criminal charges leveled against them as their trial got underway on April 23. “I am asking you to take into consideration my background, family situation and hand down a just verdict,” Sargsian told the judge in his final court speech on Tuesday.
The plea fell on deaf ears, with the court deciding to free only Ayvazian. Sargsian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, condemned the ruling, saying that his client is no more guilty than the other defendant and should have been treated accordingly.
“We are seeing a violation of not only judicial but ethical norms, which means that the prosecuting side is executing an order and doesn’t care about the defendant’s reputation and health condition,” Arsenian charged in a bitter verbal exchange with the chief trial prosecutor, Aram Amirzadian.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service moments later, the lawyer denounced the high-profile case as “fabricated.” He said Sargsian pleaded guilty only in the hope of avoiding imprisonment.