By Astghik Bedevian
An Armenian appeals court refused on Wednesday to order the release of a Lebanese-Armenian nationalist activist pending the politically charged investigation into his alleged plans to forcibly topple the government in Yerevan.
The Court of Appeals also upheld late Tuesday the pre-trial detention of a senior member of a small opposition party who is facing the same accusations.
Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of a hard-line pressure group opposed to any concessions to Azerbaijan, and Vartan Malkhasian of the Fatherland and Honor party were arrested earlier this month and charged under an article of the Criminal Code that deals with public calls for a “violent overthrow of constitutional order.”
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) says they set up a clandestine organization, called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), to mount an armed uprising against the government during parliamentary elections expected next spring. NSS officers also rounded up and briefly detained about 30 other presumed members of the group.
Sefilian and Malkhasian, who deny their accusations as politically motivated, were remanded in pre-trial custody by a Yerevan court of first instance on December 12. The court refused to release them on bail, saying that they could flee the country, obstruct justice or exert “illegal influence” on investigators. The Court of Appeals accepted this line of reasoning despite claims to the contrary made by the suspects’ lawyers.
The charges stem from a December 2 meeting of HKH activists in Yerevan. Addressing them, Sefilian warned that “we will crack the head of anyone who will dare to surrender land” to Azerbaijan, adding that “there are many people in our country who are ready to do that.” The Lebanese Armenian, who is a prominent participant of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, urged supporters to organize themselves before attempting “to solve the matter with arms.”
“Getting rid of this criminal regime is a matter of national salvation,” Malkhasian stated, for his part. “We must fight them with their methods. Blood and fire on the enemy!”
Sefilian’s lawyers insisted on Wednesday that these statements did not contain explicit calls for a violent overthrow of the ruling regime.