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Armenia: Using Prisoners to Intimidate Rights Activists?

Anahit Ayvazi, the wife of Armenian civil rights activist Vardges Gaspari, looks out the window of her Yerevan apartment in February 2009, when her husband was in prison. Human rights defenders inside and outside Armenia claim political prisoners and other activists are often abused in the prison system. (Photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

In an earlier age, dissidents and political activists could be treated somewhat like royalty by fellow inmates when they were locked up. Not any more in Armenia. Some prominent government critics openly worry that they will be targeted for abuse if they ever find themselves behind bars.
 
The abuse of inmates in prisons is a long-time issue in Armenia, and across the former Soviet Union. And violence can involve all segments of the prison population, not just those jailed for what could be described as political reasons. Yet some prominent rights activists contend that those who advocate policies and positions that run counter to government stances now face new threats. According to Armenian Helsinki Commission Chairperson Avetik Ishkhanian, “the situation [in Armenia’s prisons] has gone from bad to worse.”
 
Activists imprisoned during the politically tumultuous 1990s could find “a special positive attitude” among other prisoners toward them for opposing the government. Now, Ishkhanian alleged, “criminal figures are used to [exert] pressure on those with [anti-government] political views.” 
 

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Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am.

Armenia: Using Prisoners to Intimidate Rights Activists?

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