By Karine Kalantarian
A former Armenian deputy prosecutor-general who broke ranks to publicly voice support for opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian went on trial Monday on what he considers politically motivated charges that have been twice changed by prosecutors.
Gagik Jahangirian was sacked and arrested on February 23, the day after delivering a fiery speech at an opposition rally in which he accused the Armenian authorities of falsifying the February 19 presidential election and described Ter-Petrosian as its rightful winner.
Jahangirian was ambushed and taken away by a special police unit along with his disabled brother Vartan and two other men as they left Yerevan in a car. Police said the four men were armed and planned to “destabilize the situation in the capital.” Vartan Jahangirian was shot and wounded during the operation and is now being tried separately.
The once powerful ex-prosecutor was initially accused of illegal arms possession, a charge that was subsequently dropped and changed to an attempt to “usurp state power.” Last month he was cleared of the coup charge as well only to be accused under another article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with assaults on “representatives of the state authority.”
Prosecutors say Jahangirian and his brother, who was set free pending trial in May, put up resistance and injured two policemen during the arrest. Both defendants have rejected the accusations, saying that they were “fabricated” in retaliation for Gagik Jahangirian’s February 23 speech in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
In that speech, Jahangirian also joined Ter-Petrosian in implicating then outgoing President Robert Kocharian and his incoming successor, Serzh Sarkisian, in the deadly October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. Jahangirian accused the two men of obstructing the criminal investigation into the parliament shootings which he himself had led until 2002.
“Don’t you know Jahangirian?” the ex-prosecutor declared at the start of his trial. “Can Jahangirian shove or insult any policeman?” “I should have been sitting on the victims’ bench, Mr. Vartanian,” he said, appealing to the presiding judge.
Jahangirian again denounced his arrest as illegal and claimed to have been tortured in police custody. Incidentally, he himself faced accusations of torture and other human rights abuses during his part tenure as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor
The first court session in the high-profile trial was nearly disrupted by an angry verbal exchange between opposition supporters who packed the courtroom and one of the police officers allegedly injured by the Jahangirians. The policeman, Arman Harutiunian, was taken away from the courtroom after swearing at women who apparently insulted him.
Jahangirian’s defense lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, alleged more than a dozen violations of due process in the prosecutors’ handling of the case. She also said that that the judge, Zhora Vartanian, can not preside over the trial because his son is involved in the ongoing criminal investigation into the Armenian opposition’s election-related activities that has been accompanied by mass arrests of opposition members. Vartanian refused to abandon the case, however.
While in jail, Jahangirian disputed the legality of a Kocharian decree that relieved him of his duties and stripped him of his rank of First-Class State Justice Counsel. In a lawsuit filed to Armenia’s Administrative Court, he claimed that his sacking did not follow the procedure stipulated by an Armenian law regulating the work of state prosecutors. He also argued that Article 58 of Armenia’s constitution gives the president of the republic only the right to award such titles to senior law-enforcement and judicial officials and says nothing about their revocation.
The court dismissed the suit on August 1, citing another clause in the law that bans prosecutors from joining political parties and engaging in other political activities. The court also ruled that the constitution does allow the president to revoke ranks given to state officials. It claimed that “in this case the term ‘to award’ carries a prerogative to both give and revoke a title.”