By Karine KalantarianA court in Yerevan allowed law-enforcement authorities on Thursday to keep two of the arrested opposition leaders in jail for two more months on charges deemed highly questionable by the Council of Europe.
Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, and another leader of the opposition party, Former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, were among more than 100 supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
Like many of the detainees, they were charged under Articles 300 and 225 of the Armenian Criminal Code that deal with “usurpation of state power” and “incitement to mass disturbances.” Both men deny the charges stemming from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces.
The credibility of those accusations was also questioned by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in a fresh resolution on Armenia adopted last week. The resolution says that “the cases against those principally accused of crimes under Articles 300 and 225 of the Criminal Code should be dropped unless there is strong evidence that these persons have personally committed acts of violence or serious other criminal offences.” Neither Zurabian nor Arzumanian stands accused of committing such acts.
While insisting on the release of all oppositionists arrested for their political activities, the PACE stopped short of imposing sanctions on the Armenian authorities. It gave them six more months to meet this and other PACE demands voiced in April. Opposition representatives say this means that the authorities will be in no rush to free any of the “political prisoners” in the months to come.
The court of first instance of Yerevan’s Kentron and Nork-Marash districts refused to release Arzumanian even on bail on the grounds that Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 election campaign manager could go into hiding or commit more crimes. According to Zurabian’s lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, prosecutors came up with a different justification for the need to prolong the pre-trial detention of his client. He said they told the court that the HHSh leader should not be set free now because they need more time to substantiate the accusations.
Interviewed by RFE/RL in early June, Arzumanian and Zurabian struck a defiant note and said the coup cases were trumped up for political reasons. “There is no single fact to substantiate the accusations,” said Arzumanian. “They are holding us hostage here until they see what happens next.”
(Photolur photo: Aleksandr Arzumanian.)