By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s bar association demanded on Monday tough disciplinary action against a district prosecutor in Yerevan who allegedly intimidated and threatened to imprison a trial lawyer representing a criminal suspect. The Office of the Prosecutor-General was quick to reject the demand.
The attorney, Liana Balian, says that Gevorg Tovmasian, the chief prosecutor of the city’s Avan and Nor Nork districts, and two other law-enforcement officials visited her on Saturday after she refused to obey his verbal orders to come to his office.
“Without a court order or any other legal grounds, they burst into my apartment and started threatening me in the presence of my parents and my daughter,” Balian told RFE/RL. She claimed that Tovmasian shouted abuse and threatened to prosecute and beat her if she continues to vigorously defend a man charged with rape.
The suspect, Norayk Rubenian, was taken into custody earlier this year despite protesting his innocence. In a rare setback for prosecutors, Balian succeeded in having a district court release him on bail on Friday, the day before the alleged incidents. However, the court allowed the prosecutors on Sunday to again arrest the suspect, citing “additional accusations” leveled against him.
The lawyer’s allegations were picked up by the leadership of Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates that held an emergency meeting on Monday and demanded that Tovmasian be brought to account. “Why did the prosecutor go to the lawyer’s home?” its chairman, Ruben Sahakian, said. “What was he doing there on Saturday?”
But the Office of the Prosecutor-General defended the prosecutor’s actions, saying that he visited Balian to “explain” that she and her client have to cooperate with the ongoing criminal investigation into the rape allegedly committed in 2004. “The district prosecutor acted within the boundaries of his powers,” a spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL. She said the suspect was planning to flee the country and therefore has to be kept in pre-trial detention.
Acquittal of individuals charged with various crimes is extremely rare in Armenia, with judges siding with prosecutors in the vast majority of cases. According to official statistics, Armenian courts handed down some 1,500 verdicts on criminal cases in the first half of this year and only four of them cleared defendants of any wrongdoing.