Ignoring concerns voiced by human rights groups and the European Union, an Armenian court on Friday further extended the pre-trial arrest of an opposition activist accused of assaulting a police officer during an anti-government protest.
The arrest period was due to expire on April 1. The district court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement authorities to keep Gevorg Safarian in detention until May 15. It also rejected Safarian’s fresh request to set him free on bail.
Safarian was among dozens of activists of the opposition New Armenia Public Salvation Front who scuffled with riot police early on January 1 as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. He was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer, a charge he and New Armenia strongly deny.
The activist was due to go on trial this week. However, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General delayed the trial on March 14 by refusing to endorse the text of Safarian’s indictment submitted by the Investigative Committee.
The prosecutors ordered the law-enforcement body to conduct an “additional investigation” into the January 1 incident. Safarian’s lawyers portrayed the move as further proof that the accusation is baseless.
The Yerevan court again dismissed the lawyers’ arguments during a hearing held behind the closed doors, deciding instead to keep Safarian behind bars pending the investigation prolonged by the prosecutors.
“The court didn’t really look into the case,” one of the defense lawyers, Tigran Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The court hearing was a mere imitation of due process.”
The Armenian authorities seemed determined to keep Safarian under arrest despite local and Western human rights groups’ repeated calls for his release. EU officials also voiced serious concern over the oppositionist’s fate when they met Armenian government representatives last week.
New Armenia, which has been seeking to topple the government, has staged a series of street protests in recent days to demand Safarian’s release. Riot police dispersed one such protest on Thursday.