An Armenian court again extended on Thursday the pre-trial detention of an opposition activist who was one of the organizers of last summer’s rallies held in support of gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.
Andrias Ghukasian and other activists led anti-government protesters to the Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the seized station late on July 29. Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them after they refused to march back to the city center.
Ghukasian and three senior members of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party were arrested and charged with provoking “mass disturbances.” All of them except Ghukasian were released on bail in the following weeks. The oppositionists deny the accusations as politically motivated.
Following a three-hour hearing boycotted by Ghukasian, a district court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement bodies to keep him under arrest for two more months. The court also refused to release the activist on bail.
His lawyer, Karen Mezhlumian, condemned the ruling as unfair and groundless, saying that it was ordered by the Armenian government. “The investigating body and the court are executing an order to keep Andrias Ghukasian in detention,” Mezhlumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said the court ignored footage of the July 29 protests disproving the investigators’ claims that his client called for violence.
The authorities refused to free Ghukasian even during a month-long hunger strike which he began shortly after his arrest.
Ghukasian was already on a hunger strike for 29 days in the run-up to Armenia’s 2013 presidential election in which he ran as a maverick candidate. According to the Central Election Commission, he received about 0.6 percent of the vote.
Ghukasian reportedly would like to also participate in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Mezhlumian complained that he is unable to exercise his constitutional right because of the continuing detention.