By Tatevik Lazarian
Citing health reasons, a Yerevan court suspended on Monday judicial proceedings against one of the seven opposition figures standing trial on charges of provoking last year’s deadly post-election violence in Armenia.
The judge in the case, Mnatsakan Martirosian, said there are “sufficient grounds to presume that defendant Shant Harutiunian suffers from a mental illness” and needs to undergo a thorough psychiatric examination.
Martirosian pointed to a written statement by the administration of Yerevan’s Vartashen prison saying that Harutiunian has been behaving “aggressively,” refusing food and making “undue statements” for the past several days. The statement cited the prison’s chief psychiatrist as saying that the arrested oppositionist, who was not brought into the courtroom, may be deranged.
Harutiunian’s relatives confirmed that his health condition has deteriorated of late but insisted that he is not mentally ill. They said the medical check-up ordered by the judge must be conducted only in their presence.
Other defendants also condemned attempts to question Harutiunian’s sanity. “Shant Harutiunian does not need psychiatric aid,” one of them, Suren Sirunian, said.
“You have come up with a diagnosis. This is not your job,” another defendant, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, protested to Martirosian.
Arzumanian’s lawyer, Liparit Simonian, agreed, saying that the judge had no right to suspend the case against Harutiunian without conclusive evidence of his alleged mental illness. “Until we have a conclusion of the psychiatric examination it will be premature to say that he suffers from a mental illness,” said Simonian. “Therefore, the court should not have suspended proceedings against them.”
The seven defendants stand accused under newly amended articles of Armenia’s Criminal Code that deal with provocation of “mass disorders” and “usurpation of state power.” The accusations stem from the March 1, 2008 clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured. The Armenian authorities say the clashes were part of an opposition attempt to seize power, a claim denied by both the defendants and other leaders of the Armenian opposition.
Monday’s court hearing on the case ended in the expulsion of Arzumanian, Sirunian and three other defendants from the courtroom after they vehemently protested against a statement made by one of the trial prosecutors. The judge construed this as a contempt of the court and ruled that the five oppositionists will not be allowed to attend their trial for the next ten days. The trial will continue on Tuesday.