By Karine Kalantarian
The jailed ringleader Nairi Hunanian was prevented on Friday from making a case for his participation in the upcoming presidential election at the ongoing trial of gunmen who staged a massacre in the Armenian parliament almost three years ago.
The presiding judge, Samvel Uzunian, refused to allow Hunanian to respond to government arguments that he is not eligible to run for president. "If you are going to cite articles of the constitution, then I am categorically forbidding that," Uzunian said angrily at the end of a regular court session.
Hunanian declared recently that he will seek official registration as a presidential candidate, saying that his father will soon start collecting appropriate signatures from voters. The statement, seen as a public relations stunt, outraged families and supporters of eight senior officials assassinated in the bloody October 1999 attack on the parliament. Some of them have alleged that his "impudence" is the result of the authorities' failure to establish all circumstances of the political killings.
The Armenian constitutions allows those citizens who are in pre-trial detention and are awaiting a court verdict to contest various-level elections. But Justice Minister David Harutiunian said this week that Hunanian is not eligible to run for president because he has not lived in Armenia for the last ten years.
Hunanian on Friday appeared looking forward for an opportunity to respond to the minister, asking the judge for permission to make a statement. The request was turned down.
State prosecutors and attorneys representing families of the assassinated officials said the chief defendant is thus trying to deflect public attention from his gang's shock killings to alleged violations of his constitutional rights.