By Tatevik Lazarian
The ongoing controversial trial of seven opposition figures accused of attempting to topple Armenia’s government will start anew next month because of the impending dissolution of the court hearing the high-profile case.
Under yet another structural reform of the Armenian judiciary approved by parliament recently, the Criminal Code and other specialized tribunals, set up just a year ago, will be disbanded and replaced by general courts of first instance. The change will take effect on March 1, meaning that the so-called “case of the seven” is to be taken up by the court of first instance of Yerevan’s Kentron and Nork-Marash districts.
Despite that, the Criminal Court continued the trial on Thursday. The judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, refrained from ordering the defendants out of the courtroom for the first time in two months despite their continuing gestures of defiance.
The defendants for weeks stayed demonstratively seated every time Martirosian entered the courtroom, in protest against what they see as politically motivated charges leveled against them. Martirosian viewed that as contempt of the court 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 protest on February 12, standing up and then refusing to sit down. The judge found this behavior equally unacceptable, cutting short the proceedings. But he avoided doing that on Thursday, despite repeating warning the defendants.
“Our standing up is not a show of respect for the court, it is a show of respect for the memory of those innocent victims,” Arzumanian told the judge, referring to ten people killed in the March 1, 2008 clashes in Yerevan.
As the trial went on, more than 100 people again gathered outside the court building in a show of solidarity with the jailed oppositionists. Police briefly scuffled with some of the protests holding placards and chanting anti-government slogans.
“The police are demanding that the people keep silent,” Levon Zurabian, an opposition leader attending the protest told RFE/RL. “This is an illegal demand. We always ask people not to come into any contact with policemen.”
The seven defendants are among about 60 supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian who remain imprisoned on charges mostly stemming from the post-election unrest. 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.