YEREVAN—Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Wednesday freed opposition leader Jirayr Sefilian and six other members of his Founding Parliament on bail, with written guarantees submitted by lawmakers from the new ruling coalition.
A vocal opponent of former president Serzh Sarkisian, Sefilyan, who is a Karabakh war hero, was arrested in June 2016, ahead of Pope Francis’ much-publicized trip to Armenia, on charges of allegedly plotting a coup. He was sentenced in March, a month before Sarkisian was toppled, to 10 years in prison. Sefilian’s arrest came weeks before an armed group, calling itself Daredevils of Sassoun—Sasna Dzer, seized and occupied a police compound. The group surrendered after a two week standoff, which left two police officers dead.
None of the defendants were acquitted. The court reduced their sentences and granted them parole. In Sefilian’s case, his 10-year sentence was reduced to five and a half years.
Since the regime change in Armenia, members of Pashinyan’s Yelk bloc had been advocating for Sefilian’s release. They, together with members of businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s bloc, submitted letters to court guaranteeing the defendant’s “good behavior.”
Altogether, 12 members of the Tsarukian bloc each posted 500,000 drams (a little more than $1,000)—in all 6.5 million drams or about $13,500—to free them on bail.
Earlier in May, former presidential candidate Andreas Ghukasyan, along with Diaspora-Armenian Garo Yegnukian were released. The latest wave of court of appeals releases started in June 6, culminating in the Sefilian’s release, who is the most visible of the opposition activists, who were called political prisoners by some circles, including that of prime minister Pashinyan.