By Ruzanna Stepanian
A court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement authorities Thursday to keep two opposition parliamentarians under pre-trial arrest for two more months on what the Council of Europe regards as dubious charges.
Parliament deputies Miasnik Malkhasian and Hakob Hakobian were among more than a hundred supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of last February’s disputed presidential election.
Like other prominent detainees, they were charged under articles of Armenia’s Criminal Code that deal with “usurpation of state power” and “incitement to mass disturbances.” All of them strongly deny the charges stemming from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and thousands of protesters demanding a re-run of the vote. At least six civilians and two interior troops were killed in the clashes.
Meeting in closed session, a Yerevan district court prolonged Malkhasian’s and Hakobian’s six-month detention at the request of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), the law-enforcement agency investigating what the Armenian authorities call an opposition attempt to stage a coup d’etat. SIS investigators told the court that they need two more months to collect sufficient incriminating evidence against the two men. They also said they will alter one of the accusations leveled against the jailed lawmakers.
The oppositionists’ defense lawyer, Melania Arustamian, said her clients insisted on their innocence and again charged that the criminal case was fabricated for political aims. She told RFE/RL that six months was enough time for the investigators to substantiate their accusations.
Arustamian also said that both Malkhasian and Hakobian are in poor health and can not receive adequate medical treatment in jail. Malkhasian was briefly hospitalized and diagnosed with diabetes last month.
The Armenian authorities appear determined not to release these and other well-known Ter-Petrosian loyalists for the time being despite strong pressure from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The latter believes that many of the more than 70 oppositionists remaining in jail are political prisoners. In a resolution adopted in June, the PACE specifically demanded that the coup charges leveled against Malkhasian, Hakobian and other detainees must be dropped “unless there is strong evidence that these persons have personally committed acts of violence or serious other criminal offences.”
Visiting Yerevan in late July, PACE President Lluis Maria de Puig warned that Armenia’s continued membership in the Strasbourg-based organization will be at serious risk if its government fails to free all political prisoners and restore civil liberties by mid-September. “If we conclude on September 11 that no important progress has been made in Armenia, there will be a very scandalous situation,” he told RFE/RL.
President Serzh Sarkisian clearly did not share the PACE chief’s sense of urgency as he spoke at a news conference earlier in July. “If a certain provision [of the PACE resolutions on Armenia] is not implemented by January, I don’t think we will have a calamity as a result,” he said.
Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders maintain that none of the arrested oppositionists was prosecuted for political motives.
(Photolur photo: Malkhasian, left, and Hakobian pictured moments before fellow lawmakers stripped them of their immunity from prosecution last March.)