Parliament deputies Miasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian and one of his associates, Suren Sirunian, are among 54 opposition members remaining in jail more than 15 months after the clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that left ten people dead. The four men as well as two other prominent opposition figures stand accused under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with provocation of “mass disturbances.” Mikaelian is also charged with illegal arms possession.
Armenia -- Jailed opposition MP Hakob Hakobian pictured during his trial on June 5, 2009.
The six oppositionists were initially also accused of “usurpation of state authority by force.” The charge was dropped in late March after the Armenian parliament amended the corresponding article of the Criminal Code under pressure from the Council of Europe.
The cases against the defendants are essentially on incriminating testimonies given by witnesses, virtually all of them opposition supporters, during the pre-trial investigation. However, many of those witnesses have retracted their testimonies in court, saying that they were tortured or forced otherwise to falsely incriminate the defendants.
The prosecutors in the separate high-profile trials of the two lawmakers dismissed the retractions and said the pre-trial statements signed by the witnesses are more credible. They demanded that Malkhasian and Mikaelian be sentenced to six and nine years in prison respectively.
“I think that the court, attaching importance only to the interests of justice, will deliver a substantiated and legitimate verdict,” Harutiun Harutiunian, the prosecutor in Malkhasian’s trial, said in his concluding remarks on Friday.
Armenia -- Jailed opposition MP Miasnik Malkhasian pictured during his trial on June 5, 2009.
Harutiunian’s speech infuriated Malkhasian. “Aren’t you ashamed of writing so many untrue things about me?” he said before shouting abuse at the prosecution.
Mikaelian reacted in a similar fashion when another prosecutor, Koryun Piloyan, demanded an even tougher punishment for him on Thursday. The demand also sparked angry protests from Mikaelian’s supporters present in the courtroom, leading the judge to interrupt the hearing.
Piloyan and another prosecutor spent two hours on Friday trying to substantiate the cases against Arzumanian and Sirunian. They urged a Yerevan court to sentence the two men to six and five years’ imprisonment respectively. The presiding judge expelled Arzumanian from the courtroom for “insulting” the prosecutors shortly before the latter delivered their speeches.
The tough punishments were demanded amid growing indications that President Serzh Sarkisian will initiate a general amnesty for the jailed oppositionists ahead of this month’s session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The Strasbourg-based body has repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions against the Armenian authorities if they fail to free all individuals jailed on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.”