An Armenian opposition activist was released from pre-trial detention late on Wednesday one week after surrendering to the police to face trial on charges stemming from last year’s post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Hamlet Hovannisian was among prominent supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who went into hiding following the March 1, 2008 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Like other, arrested oppositionists, they were charged with organizing what the Armenian call “mass disturbances.”
Hovannisian, who coordinated Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 election campaign in the northern Lori region, turned himself in on July 30 one day before the official deadline set for fugitive oppositionists willing to be granted amnesty. Under a government-drafted amnesty bill passed by parliament on June 19, they will be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
A Yerevan court agreed to order Hovannisian’s release jail pending trial after his face-to-face interrogations with a man whose pre-trial testimony formed the basis of the criminal case against the oppositionist. The man, Vrezh Nikolian, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison last year for manufacturing metal objects that were allegedly meant to be used by opposition protesters against riot police. He claimed in his pre-trial testimony that he was commissioned to do that by Hovannisian.
Both Hovannisian and his defense lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, said on Thursday that Nikolian retracted that claim during the joint interrogation. “The main accusation has not been proven,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “I think that’s what made them free me for now.”
There are no indications yet that Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), which has been leading the criminal investigation into the 2008 unrest, intends to drop the case against the retired army colonel. The SIS has also pressed similar charges leveled against two other oppositionists that came out of hiding earlier in July.