By Emil DanielyanA jailed human rights lawyer, who represented Yerevan residents forcibly evicted from their homes, pleaded with the European Court of Human Rights on Monday to intervene in his highly controversial prosecution which he considers illegal and politically motivated.
In an open letter written in his maximum-security prison cell, Vahe Grigorian urged the pan-European tribunal to force the Armenian authorities to release him pending trial or at least ensure his unfettered communication with his defense counsels and clients allegedly defrauded by the government. Grigorian again insisted that accusations of “large-scale fraud” were fabricated against him by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) in retaliation for his campaign against the ongoing redevelopment in central Yerevan that has been tainted by allegations of high-level government corruption.
Hundreds of families have been forced over the past two years to vacate their mostly decrepit houses that are being torn down to make room for expensive buildings. Many are unhappy with the amount of financial compensation offered by the state, saying that it is well below the market value of their properties. The legality and integrity of the process has been repeatedly questioned by Larisa Alaverdian, Armenia’s first human rights ombudsperson who was relieved of her duties last week.
Resistance to the forced dislocation has been particularly strong among residents of the disappearing Buzand Street in the city center. Grigorian’s law firm, called Right, helped four local families file lawsuits to the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year.
The lawyer was arrested by NSS investigators on October 7, after for months alleging harassment by the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB. His arrest and prosecution has been condemned by Alaverdian and independent human rights activists. Grigorian’s attorneys say the ex-KGB investigators lack even incriminating written testimony to substantiate their charges.
The NSS has refused to comment on the case throughout. Under Armenian law, the secretive agency is primarily supposed to fight against high treason, terrorism and other grave crimes.
Grigorian’s appeals against his pre-trial detention, extended for another two months in December, have been dismissed by the Armenian appeals courts. In his letter, he accused them of violating key provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights and said he will formally file a suit to the Strasbourg-based court later this week. He said he has been unable to communicate with his lawyers and Buzand Street clients by phone ever since being moved back to the NSS’s basement jail in downtown Yerevan on December 30.
One of his lawyers, Artur Grigorian, expressed serious concern about the “illegal” relocation on Monday, saying he fears his client might be subjected to torture in the notorious prison. “All of us are aware of the methods used by the NSS and inherited from the KGB,” the lawyer told reporters. But he added that Vahe Grigorian has not been mistreated so far.