Gagik Shamshian

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Journalist in Armenia.

Journalist Spurns Illegal Amnesty

Karine Simonian

A well-known Armenian photojournalist who was controversially penalized for contempt of court has successfully petitioned authorities in Yerevan to declare illegal amnesty granted to him last month.

Gagik Shamshian was tried and fined 350,000 drams ($950) earlier this year for allegedly insulting a judge during the trial of opposition activists arrested following last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan. Armenia’s Court of Appeals ruled on July 15 that he qualifies for an amnesty bill adopted by parliament in June.

The National Assembly made clear that the bill can not apply to those individuals who were convicted of crimes less than ten years ago and benefited from the previous amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities in 2001. Shamshian received a 30-month prison sentence on equally controversial charges in 2007. It was overturned by the 2001 pardon.

Shamshian said on Monday that he pointed to this fact during the Court of Appeals hearing on his case. “I said, ‘Dear court, you have no right to apply the amnesty to me because that’s against the law,’” he told RFE/RL. “The judges said, ‘Don’t make noise, we are doing you a favor.’ But I don’t need favors.”

“The judges must understand that they can not make illegal decisions,” added the photojournalist.

In response to a complaint lodged by Shamshian, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General acknowledged late last week that the court’s decision was a serious “judicial mistake.” “The decision by the Court of Appeals must be overturned,” the law-enforcement agency said in a letter sent to the higher Court of Cassation. The latter now has to meet to consider the demand.

Shamshian insisted that he will not pay the hefty fine in any case because he considers the corresponding verdict “unfounded” and plans to appeal against it at the European Court of Human Rights.