An Armenian human rights activist who was arrested more than four months ago on controversial assault charges was unexpectedly set free on Friday as a Yerevan court suspended his ongoing trial at prosecutors’ request.
Arshaluys Hakobian of the Armenian Helsinki Association (AHA) was taken into custody on June 5 after a bitter argument with two police officers that visited his Yerevan apartment to hand him a summons from the Special Investigative Services (SIS). Hakobian complained to the law-enforcement agency after he and the chairman of the human rights group, Mikael Danielian, were allegedly intimidated by government loyalists during the May 31 municipal elections in the capital.
The Armenian police claim that Hakobian punched one of the policemen and slapped the other after they “reprimanded” him for being drunk and wrongly signing the document. The activist strongly denies that, saying that he was forcibly taken to the police department of Yerevan’s central Kentrond district and beaten up there after protesting the officers’ refusal to leave his apartment. He claims that the Armenian law-enforcement authorities deliberately provoked the incident in retaliation for his complaint to the SIS.
The case against Hakobian, strongly condemned by the AHA and other civic groups, is based on the policemen’s incriminating testimony. The trial prosecutors have also cited a written statement by the chief of Armenia’s state ambulance service certifying that Hakobian was drunk during the morning incident. However, the medical official, Artem Petrosian, testified in the court that he does not remember signing such a document. The police version of events has also been denied by members of the defendant’s family.
The trial prosecutor, Hunan Babayan, on Thursday asked the district court to “postpone” further judicial proceedings in the case by one month, saying that the prosecution needs time to “change or complement” the accusations that carry up to five years in prison. He declined to specify what prompted them to make the changes. The court swiftly granted the request and ordered Hakobyan’s release from prison at least until a verdict in the case.
Hakobyan struck a defiant note as he walked free in the courtroom. “It’s the policemen that should have been in the dock,” he told journalists.
“Frankly, I had no good expectations,” Danielian said for his part. “They just felt that the facts presented by the defense lawyer testify to Arshaluys’s innocence and didn’t know what to do. Now they want to make up something new that would somehow prove them right.”