By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Armenian court on Monday reached verdicts in the controversial trial of opposition activists charged with calling for a violent regime change in public.
Judge Mnatsakan Martirosian acquitted Zhirayr Sefilian of the charge, but found him guilty of another charge pressed by the prosecutors -- illegal arms possession. Thus, he sentenced the prominent Karabakh war veteran to 18-month imprisonment.
Vartan Malkhasian, a senior member of Sefilian’s hard-line pressure group opposed to territorial concessions to Azerbaijan, was found guilty on the sole charge of calling for a violent overthrow of government and was sentenced to two years in prison.
The third defendant in the case, Vahan Aroyan, who was charged only with illegally carrying weapons, was found guilty and sentenced to 18-month imprisonment.
The public in the court vehemently protested the verdicts and called for Sefilian and his fellow group members to be set free immediately.
Malkhasian, from the dock, called out to his supporters in the court-room: “Don’t be discouraged.” And Sefilian added: “It’ll be alright.”
While the guards were escorting the convicts out, RFE/RL approached Sefilian for a comment.
“It was expected,” he said.
“The verdicts are connected with [President Robert] Kocharian’s..,” Sefilian added, leaving the sentence half-finished as the guards convoyed him off.
Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested after setting up a pressure group opposing allegedly planned land concessions in the Karabakh conflict. The National Security Service claimed the two planned to mount an armed uprising against the government ahead of the parliamentary elections in May.
The criminal case against the two men was in the main based on the speeches they made during the December 2, 2006 founding congress of their Alliance of Armenian Volunteers.
Both protested their innocence all along and denounced the case as politically motivated.
Sefilian’s lawyer Ara Zakarian called the verdict ‘unlawful’ and said they are going to appeal it at the higher court. He said his client was taken into custody eight month ago and, therefore, in any case will remain imprisoned only until June 2008.
After the end of the trial a group of the Karabakh war veterans’ supporters organized a march towards the government building. They demanded that the government should release all political prisoners. The demonstrators also staged a protest near the French embassy in Yerevan calling on the French government to respond to “unhealthy processes” in Armenia.
Member of parliament Zaruhi Postanjian representing the opposition Heritage party described Sefilian as another victim of political persecutions in the pre-election year after jailed newspaper editor Arman Babajanian and opposition activist Alexander Arzumanian. “I think this chain will continue. These are preventive measures applied through the judiciary that acts on government orders,” she charged.