By Karine Kalantarian
The most high-profile of trials of Armenian opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election remained in deadlock on Thursday even though all seven defendants agreed to stand up and show respect for the presiding judge.
The defendants stayed demonstratively seated when the judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, entered the courtroom during the previous hearings, in protest against what they see as politically motivated charges leveled against them. Martirosian halted and adjourned proceedings as a result.
The seven oppositionists, among them former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian and three members of parliament, switched to a new form of defiance on Thursday, standing up and then refusing to sit down. Martirosian found this behavior equally unacceptable, telling them to take their seats in the dock and “show a respectful attitude so we can continue the court session.”
“It’s more convenient for us to keep standing,” replied Arzumanian. “There are [legal] norms requiring trial participants to sit down. There is only a requirement to stand up, which is what we did.”
“We’re not insulting you, we’re not telling you anything. We’re just standing,” he said.
Arzumanian, who managed opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 election campaign, challenged Martirosian to cite a legal provision that obligates defendants to stay seated during trials. The judge ignored the demand, insisting that the oppositionists respect the court. He stopped the hearing and delayed the trial by two weeks after one of the defendants, Shant Harutiunian, shouted abuse at him.
The oppositionists are among about 60 Ter-Petrosian supporters who remain imprisoned on charges mostly stemming from the post-election deadly clashes in Yerevan. They stand accused under two articles of the Armenian Criminal Code that deal with provocation of “mass riots accompanied by murders” and “usurpation of state authority by force.”
The Armenian authorities have pledged to amend those articles by next April as part of their stated efforts to comply with resolutions on Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). PACE officials say the authorities have assured them that the amendments will be retroactively applied to jailed Ter-Petrosian loyalists in a way that should result in their release from prison. Ter-Petrosian and his aides are highly skeptical about these assurances, however.