By Karine Kalantarian
In a highly controversial but anticipated ruling, a Yerevan court on Monday sentenced Gagik Jahangirian, a former deputy prosecutor-general linked to the Armenian opposition, to three years in prison for allegedly resisting police during his arrest last year.
Jahangirian was sacked and arrested the day after delivering a fiery speech at an opposition rally in which he accused the Armenian authorities of rigging the February 19, 2008 presidential election and described opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian as its rightful winner. Although the police claimed at the time that Jahangirian planned to “destabilize the situation in the capital,” he was eventually charged only with resisting a special police unit that ambushed his car just outside Yerevan on February 23.
The court convicted Jahangirian under a corresponding article of Armenia’s Criminal Code, saying that he did not obey police orders, hit one police officer, Armen Harutiunian, and tore another officer’s jacket. The judge in the politically charged case, Zhora Vartanian, also cited the “high degree of public danger” posed by the crime.
Harutiunian has said in his court testimony that he was only shoved by Jahangirian and fell to the ground because he was taken off the guard. Karen Babakekhian, deputy chief of the feared Sixth Directorate of the Armenian who personally ordered the Jahangirian’s’ arrest, raised more questions about the case when he testified in the court in late January. “I was not present at the scene of the incident, but from what I was told, Mr. Jahangirian did not resist,” he stated, adding that the once powerful ex-prosecutor willingly handed his officially registered pistol to police officers.
Babakekhian claimed that it was Jahangirian’s disabled brother Vartan who put up resistance during the arrest. The latter suffers from a serious spinal disorder and can walk only on crutches.
The brothers claim to have been tortured at the headquarters’ of Babakekhian’s police unit. The police deny ill-treating them.
Gagik Jahangirian has rejected the charges as groundless and politically motivated throughout the high-profile trial. In a final lengthy speech in the court last week, he again accused the authorities of rigging the 2008 ballot, deliberately using lethal force against opposition protesters and illegally arresting dozens of Ter-Petrosian loyalists.
“We never expected justice from the court,” his lawyer, Lusine Sahakian, told RFE/RL after the announcement of the verdict. Sahakian said Jahangirian was “ready” even for a five-year prison sentence. He will appeal against the “illegal” verdict, she said.
Jahangirian himself was accused of resorting to torture and committing other human rights abuses during his decade-long tenure as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor. Such allegations marred, in particular, the criminal investigation into the October 1999 deadly seizure of the Armenian parliament led by Jahangirian.
Jahangirian also presided over the extremely controversial prosecution of three Armenian army conscripts arrested in 2004 on charges of murdering two fellow soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh. One of those conscripts claimed to have been brutally tortured into falsely confessing to the charges. The three young men were sensationally set free by Armenia’s Court of Appeals in December 2006, just seven months after being sentenced to life imprisonment.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Jahangirian.)