By Irina Hovannisian
A court in Yerevan has allowed the National Security Service (NSS) to keep two nationalist opposition activists in jail for two more months pending the politically charged investigation into their alleged plot to overthrow the government.
Vartan Malkhasian, a leading member of a small Armenian opposition party, and Zhirayr Sefilian, a prominent veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, were again remanded in pre-trial custody in separate court rulings handed down on Thursday and Wednesday respectively.
The court of first instance of the city’s central administrative district accepted the NSS claims that the suspects will “obstruct the investigation” if they are released on bail.
About a hundred of their supporters angrily demonstrated outside the court house late Wednesday after the announcement of the first ruling. Some hurled eggs at the building in protest against what they regard as an unjust and politically motivated decision.
Police detained and questioned eleven demonstrators, among them organizers of the protest, shortly afterwards. They were released several hours later after providing written explanations of their “hooligan actions.”
“We find such claims absurd,” Armen Yeghian, a senior member of a Sefilian-led pressure group opposed to Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan, told RFE/RL. “We don’t think that we broke the law with such symbolic actions. We must fight for justice and make our voices heard.”
Yeghian and several other activists were summoned to the police for further questioning on Thursday.
Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested and charged with calling for a “violent overthrow” of the government in early December just days after setting up a new organization opposed to Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. The NSS claims that the group, called the Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), planned to use next month’s parliamentary elections to mount an armed uprising against the government.
Both suspects deny the charges. Armenia’s leading opposition groups have voiced solidarity with them, condemning the case as politically motivated.