A recent ruling by a Yerevan court has caused widespread upset among equality and anti-violence activists after a judge ruled not to punish Sargis Hakobyan, the husband of Hasmik Khacachtrian, for long-term domestic violence towards his wife.
The case, which has been ongoing for over a year, has become a symbol for the fight for equality in Armenia and has turned Hasmik into an unlikely figure in the anti-violence movement.
The case was supported by the Women’s Support Centre and a number of other activists who called for severe punishment to be brought upon Hakobyan for his abuse of Hasmik. Ms. Khacahtrian suffered physical and psychological torment for 9 years at the hands of her husband which Hasmik’s supporters claim amounts to torture.
During the trial evidence was offered to the court that indicated severe abuse endured by Hasmik, including several beatings as well as being burnt with lit cigarettes.
The court however ruled that the defendant was not to be charged with the serious crime of torture, but with the less severe crime of ‘minor harm to health’. After being found guilty the husband was charged with 18 months of prison, which he was immediately relieved of because of a special amnesty issued by the Armenian government, which allows anyone charged with a ‘minor crime’ to go free for first offences. (The amnesty was issued in 2011 for the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence).
According to the court sufficient evidence was not given that Hasmik had been persistently abused by her husband during the 9 year period and that scars left on her body indicated only isolated events and not a long-term ordeal.
Despite being found guilty of assaulting his wife Hakobyan walked away from the court unpunished and now remains a free man.
The decision not to prosecute has angered many activists, who see the court ruling as a failure to provide justice for the victims of domestic violence.
Lara Aharonian of the Women’s Resource Center told CEN, “[the case] will have serious repercussions since it shows that victims of domestic violence are not protected by the law and that you will get away with it if you beat your spouse.”
News of the decision comes after several campaigns led by women’s rights groups to combat domestic violence in Armenia. According to many activists domestic violence remains a problem largely because of the impunity that abusers have from the Armenian justice system.
For more on the court ruling and information on how you can support the fight against domestic violence in Armenia please visit the Women’s Support Center’s website.