Ignoring calls by more than 100 politicians and prominent public figures, Armenia’s Court of Appeals refused on Wednesday to release on bail an opposition activist who has been kept in prison on controversial charges for the past two years.
The court ruled that Tigran Arakelian, a leader of the youth wing of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), will stay behind bars pending its verdict in the high-profile case also involving three other HAK activists.
The four young men were arrested in August 2011 and accused of attacking police officers maintaining public order in Yerevan. They strongly denied the police claims, saying that they were beaten up and detained after the policemen tried to arbitrarily search another man. All of the activists except Arakelian were set free shortly afterwards.
A district court in Yerevan sentenced them to between two and six years in prison in July 2012. Arakelian received the longest prison sentence for what the Armenian police say was a key role in the incident. The three other activists will go to jail if the prison sentences are upheld by higher courts.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld the July 2012 ruling last November before all four defendants appealed to the higher Court of Cassation. The latter struck down the jail terms but stopped short of acquitting the defendants in May. It only instructed the Court of Appeals to hear and rule on the case anew.
Earlier this week, 110 prominent Armenians, including a dozen parliament deputies, urged the Court of Appeals to free Arakelian at least until the final verdict, promising to post bail and guarantee that the oppositionist will not go into hiding.
A panel of three judges dealing with the case rejected this appeal without any explanation, sparking a furious reaction from dozens of opposition supporters present in the courtroom. Arakelian slammed the judges before being handcuffed and taken away by security officials.
Arakelian’s lawyer, Mushegh Shushanian, condemned the decision but said he expected it. “We all understand that unfortunately we don’t live in a rule-of-law state,” Shushanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “There are no independent courts in Armenia, and this decision was definitely made elsewhere.”
Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, claimed that President Serzh Sarkisian personally decided to keep Arakelian in jail. He said Sarkisian is thus warning other young Armenians against challenging the ruling regime.
The HAK has said all along that the case against Arakelian and the three other activists was fabricated for political reasons. The Armenian authorities deny this.