A district court in Yerevan on Wednesday extended by one month the pre-trial detention of an opposition activist which has been denounced by Armenian and international human rights groups.
The court decided to allow law-enforcement authorities to keep Gevorg Safarian under arrest until April 1 following a 6-hour hearing held amid fresh protests staged by his supporters.
Safarian’s lawyers condemned the decision as unfounded, saying it is further proof that the case against him is politically motivated.
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 accused of assaulting a police officer, a charge he and New Armenia strongly deny.
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.”
Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian insisted later in January that Safarian is not a political prisoner.