An Armenian opposition activist arrested following last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan was released from prison on Wednesday after being found to have suffered from a mental illness.
Shant Harutiunian was one of seven opposition figures who went on a collective trial last December on charges of organizing the March 1, 2008 clashes with security forces that left ten people dead.
Citing his “aggressive” and weird behavior, a Yerevan court suspended judicial proceedings against Harutiunian and ordered government doctors to subject him to a psychiatric examination two months ago. He was transferred to a mental hospital and spent more than a month there as a result.
According to Armenia’s Court of Appeals, Health Ministry psychiatrists who conducted the examination have conducted that Harutiunian was not sane when he delivered passionate speeches to thousands of opposition protesters who barricaded themselves in central Yerevan and fought pitched battles with riot police in the wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential election. A court spokeswoman said this conclusion led state prosecutors to close the case against Harutiunian and set him free.
Harutiunian, who is known for his extreme nationalist views, played no role in peaceful opposition demonstrations that preceded the deadly clashes. The circumstances in which he joined opposition leaders in addressing the angry crowd during the unrest are still not clear.
Speaking to RFE/RL, the outspoken activist denied having any mental problems. “They couldn’t take me back to the court because my trial would have been a greater embarrassment for them,” he said, commenting on reasons for his release. “That’s why they opted for this solution.”
“I will not participate in or support the opposition during these [May 31] mayoral elections,” said Harutiunian. “But I am ready to take any step, including a revolution, for the sake of my friends who are still in prison.”
The more prominent oppositionists remaining in jail are now facing separate trials for allegedly organizing “the mass disorders.” In virtually all of these trials some of the witnesses have retracted their earlier incriminating testimonies against the defendants. They have said that they testified against the latter under duress and psychological pressure.