An Armenian court on Monday refused to grant bail to an opposition activist who was arrested during an anti-government protest in Yerevan and prosecuted on what human rights groups consider politically motivated charges.
Gevorg Safarian and dozens of other activists of the opposition New Armenia Public Salvation Front scuffled with riot police early on January 1 as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Liberty Square, the scene of anti-government rallies held by the radical grouping in December. Five of them were detained as a result.
All of the activists except Safarian were set free in the following hours. Safarian was charged with assaulting a police officer. Later in January, Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld a Yerevan district court decision’s to remand him in pre-trial custody pending investigation.
The same lower court refused on Monday to free the oppositionist on bail despite written pledges by several members of Armenia’s parliament to ensure his cooperation with investigators.After a four-hour hearing held in closed session, the court accepted prosecutors’ claim that Safarian would pressurize witnesses and forge evidence if set free.
The ruling came as several dozen New Armenia members and supporters rallied outside the court building in a show of solidarity with Safarian. Some of them threw eggs at the building in protest.
“Once again the rights of an Armenian citizen have been violated,” said Zhirayr Sefilian, a New Armenia leader. He claimed that the authorities are keeping Safarian behind bars to discourage other young Armenians against challenging them.
Local and international human rights organizations have likewise demanded Safarian’s release. The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian on January 5, saying that the activist is prosecuted for exercising his political rights. HRW went on to release a separate statement that denounced Safarian’s pre-trial arrest as “wholly unjustified.”
Safarian’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, said on Monday that the authorities plan to extend his arrest by two more months, until May 1.