The Ministry of Justice believes that a person sentenced to life imprisonment may also improve and not pose any danger to society" />

Prisoner serving life sentence in Armenia released in courtroom

The Ministry of Justice believes that a person sentenced to life imprisonment may also improve and not pose any danger to society

An unprecedented verdict

Yesterday an Armenian court released a prisoner who was formerly sentenced to life in prison out on 10-year parole.

Karen Oganesyan was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 in the United States on two counts of murder. In 2009 he was handed over to Armenia where he continued serving his sentence until his recent release.

Oganesyan worked for a company involved in the installation of security systems and had a permit to carry a firearm. At the end of a work day, he and a friend ended up in an altercation with two immigrants from South America that may have had a racial element. Oganesyan killed both of the immigrants in the incident.

The convict himself claims that, during the conflict, he heard a gunshot and saw his friend fall to the ground, after which he used his firearm:

“I regretted, regret and will regret my act. At the same time, I can say that I did not go outside on that day with the intention to commit a crime. I just took a friend to meet his Mexican girlfriend.”

The decision to release Oganesyan is unprecedented. While some life prisoners are entitled to parole, no Armenian court has handed down such a sentence in many years.

What has changed and what can be expected

The decision regarding Oganesyan’s early release has already been welcomed by the Ministry of Justice. The ministry believes that the law on parole should also apply to those sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The government looks differently at the issue of those sentenced to life imprisonment. We believe that yes, a life prisoner may also improve after a certain time and not pose any danger to society. Such people should not be in prison of course,” said Artur Hovhannisyan, Acting First Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia.

The ministry is planning significant changes to the law on parole for prisoners sentenced to life. A pardon committee has already made positive conclusions in the cases of several prisoners, but only a court can make the final decision.

The Ministry of Justice believes that the early release system may also help solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons.

How many prisoners are serving life terms in Armenia

There are currently 97 prisoners serving life sentences in Armenia. Of these, 32 were previously sentenced to death, but after Armenia joined the Council of Europe in 2001, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. This was one of the country’s obligations before the Council of Europe.

‘Letters From Prison’ author is awaiting his court decision

Serving life in prison, Yuri Sargsyan has been writing letters to the editors of JAMnews since 2017, describing his life and experience in prison.

He has already spent 24 years in prison. The Supreme Court of Armenia had earlier sentenced him to death, but his sentence was commuted in 2003 to life imprisonment. Sargsyan is now waiting a court decision regarding his release on parole.

Read also: Yuri Sargsyan’s first letter: Letters from prison: Where dreams are better than waking

Sargsyan wrote to us because he wanted to speak out, and believes it is important for society to hear about those living “on the other side”. We agreed with him, and so our project “Letters From Prison” was born. In his 10 letters, he tells his story and shares his experiences.

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