Authorities in Armenia have refused to leave at large a fugitive parliament member and businessman wanted on charges relating to last year’s post-election unrest if the latter decides to surrender under proposed terms of a general amnesty bill passed by the legislature last month.
A group of lawyers representing the interests of Khachatur Sukiasian submitted a corresponding petition to the Special Investigation Service (SIS) after the fugitive businessman and opposition parliamentarian himself hinted on Monday that he might soon stop hiding and surrender to Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Sukiasian was among several opposition figures who went into hiding in March 2008 to avoid prosecution for their role in post-election demonstrations in Yerevan that were suppressed by the authorities. Like three other members of Armenia’s parliament arrested in the government crackdown, Sukiasian was charged with plotting to “usurp the state authority” and organizing “mass riots” that left ten people dead. State prosecutors dropped the coup charges against them in April this year.
An amnesty bill approved by the National Assembly on June 19 gave Sukiasian and other fugitive oppositionists until July 31 to turn themselves in and face trial. They will be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Sukiasian’s lawyer Artur Grigorian claimed on Friday that the SIS has failed to make a scrupulous assessment of the petition and disregarded a number of important circumstances that might serve as grounds for leaving his client at large.
In particular, he mentioned the precedent of other trials of March 1-related defendants in which sentences passed by the court in relation to opposition members made them eligible for release under amnesty.
“There are no grounds to say that courts would show a different attitude toward Sukiasian, which makes it inexpedient to keep detention as a restrictive measure,” said Grigorian.
The lawyer also invoked the latest resolution of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in which it urged the Armenian authorities not to imprison oppositionists wanted on charges related to the March 1-2 violence if they decide to turn themselves in.
“These two circumstances are enough to insist that the rejection of our petition is groundless,” said Grigorian.
Another prominent opposition figure, Nikol Pashinian, last week was remanded in pre-trial custody two days after emerging from hiding and surrendering to the Armenian police.
A court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement to keep Pashinian under arrest for at least two months pending investigation into his role in last year’s post-election clashes in Yerevan. It ignored defense lawyers’ assurances that he will not obstruct the inquiry or again hide from the authorities.