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Nine months in captivity: chronicle of Ruben Vardanyan’s detention

Social entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan has already been in Baku prison for nine months. Let us remind you that Azerbaijan illegally detained the philanthropist on September 27, 2023 when he was trying to leave Artsakh for Armenia.

Recently, the fate of the philanthropist, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was discussed at the American University of Armenia. Siranush Sahakyan, the representative of prisoners of war at the European Court of Human Rights, noted in her speech that Vardanyan’s status at present is most correctly characterized as “political prisoner”.

Elisa von Joden-Forgin, executive director of the Lemkin Institute for the Prevention of Genocide, also referred to political motives for the arrest of the social entrepreneur. She believes that Vardanyan became a victim of persecution by the Azerbaijani authorities because of his bold and open position on the independence of Artsakh.

In April, the philanthropist went on hunger strike, but due to the lack of regular telephone communication, Vardanyan’s family learned about it two weeks late. He took this desperate step after Azerbaijan ignored repeated requests to ensure a fair and transparent trial in accordance with global legal standards. On April 26, Ruben Vardanyan was forced to stop his hunger strike after persistent requests from his family, which was concerned about his health condition.

On May 13, the philanthropist’s wife Veronica Zonabend read out his address to the participants and laureates of the Aurora International Humanitarian Award. In the letter the philanthropist confessed that he was inspired to move to Artsakh by the laureates – heroes who risked themselves for the sake of saving others.

Despite international pressure, on May 16, the Azerbaijani court extended Ruben Vardanyan’s arrest for another five months. His team considered this decision illegal and unreasonable. “An open trial of our defendant’s case is the only way to ensure the legality of criminal proceedings. We insist that Ruben Vardanyan’s trial must be exactly like this,” said Victoria Burkovskaya, the representative of the philanthropist’s defense in Russia.

In early June, in connection with preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP29) in Bonn, members of the Free Armenian Prisoners team demanded that Azerbaijan release Vardanyan and other illegally imprisoned Armenians. They called on the participants of the event and the international community to pay attention to the fact that the next session of the conference will be held in a country that grossly violates human rights.

On June 14, Vardanyan’s lawyers sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur asking to condemn the cruel treatment of their client: during his hunger strike in April, the philanthropist was transferred to a punishment cell, deprived of sleep, not given drinking water for more than two days and forced to stand on his feet for long periods of time. In addition, Vardanyan was cut off all communications with the outside world, prevented from meeting with his lawyer and talking on the phone with his family. Thus, the statement says, Azerbaijan violates its obligations under the Convention against Torture and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

While Vardanyan remains in pre-trial detention facility, his charitable initiatives are still helping people. For example, the “We Are Our Mountains” territorial development agency established by him is creating a new orchard near the Tatev Monastery: the work involves partners and associates of the patron, as well as numerous volunteers. In addition, an entertainment zone appeared in the Friendship Park in Gyumri, which was renovated on Vardanyan’s initiative – rides were launched here on the International Children’s Day.