By Astghik Bedevian
A citizen of France of Armenian origin who actively participated in this year’s post-election rallies in Yerevan and faced deportation last month is now facing up to five years in jail on false evidence charges, his lawyer confirmed Monday.
Sarkis Hatspanian, who set up permanent residence in Armenia in the 1990s, was arrested late last week in connection with his earlier interview with an opposition daily in which he claimed the head of state was a target of an imminent assassination attempt.
The National Security Service had instituted a criminal case on the basis of the publication in “Haykakan Zhamanak” on the hallmarks of a penal code article dealing with attempted assassinations of state officials. But as Hatspanian’s lawyer said, apparently finding no sufficient evidence to back up the claim, the investigation body decided to open a case against the oppositionist on the charge of giving false evidence.
Tigran Atanesian told RFE/RL that Hatspanian was detained late on Friday in what he considered to be a politically motivated case. He, however, quoted his client as saying that he had been treated well and within the framework of the law.
It emerged on Monday that a court had placed the French citizen in custody for two months pending investigation.
Hatspanian moved to Armenia from France in 1990. He took part in the subsequent Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. A critic of Armenia’s current leadership, Hatspanian publicly backed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power, participating in massive anti-government demonstrations held in the wake of last February’s presidential election.
Hatspanian was holed up in his Yerevan apartment for several days as he faced deportation shortly after returning to Armenia in early October. Police officials said then former President Robert Kocharian revoked Hatspanian’s long-term residency permit in March.
Under Armenian law, however, authorities cannot deport a foreign citizen if the latter has underage children in the country.
Talking to RFE/RL on Saturday, Zhirayr Sefilian, another, more prominent war veteran lacking Armenian citizenship and backing the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition, condemned Hatspanian’s arrest.