By Astghik Bedevian
Law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday pressed coup charges against a prominent Lebanese citizen of Armenian descent who was arrested at the weekend for allegedly plotting to overthrow Armenia’s government.
Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of a nationalist group opposed to Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, appeared to have avoided deportation from the country and looked set to stand trial there instead.
The National Security Service (NSS) says Sefilian, a veteran of the 1991-1994 war in Karabakh, set up a clandestine organization to mount an armed uprising against the government during parliamentary elections due next spring. Dozens of its alleged members were also briefly detained over the weekend.
A court in Yerevan was considering behind the closed doors late Tuesday the NSS’s request to keep Sefilian under arrest pending investigation. The suspect was expected to be remanded in pre-trial custody.
The NSS’s decision to formally charge Sefilian with publicly calling for a “violent change of constitutional order” suggested that he will not be deported from Armenia despite claims to the contrary made by his friends and associates.
“I rule out his deportation,” Sefilian’s Lebanese-Armenian wife, Nanor Parseghian, told RFE/RL earlier in the day. “First of all, because his passport’s validity period has expired and no third country will agree to take him in and transfer to Lebanon.”
The case against the decorated war veteran was condemned by more than a dozen Armenian opposition parties. In a joint statement issued late Monday, they accused the authorities of stifling dissent ahead of the upcoming elections and demanded his immediate release from jail.
A similar statement was also released by 18 members of Armenia’s parliament, most of them representing opposition factions. Three of them also offered to pay bail on Sefilian’s behalf.
The inquiry was launched by the NSS under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that was invoked by state prosecutors in their controversial criminal case against the country’s leading opposition groups that tried unsuccessfully to topple the government with a campaign of street protests in spring 2004.