Ignoring appeals from a renowned international human rights organization, the Armenian authorities have refused to free an opposition activist arrested while attempting to place a Christmas tree in Yerevan.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld on Monday a lower court ruling that remanded Gevorg Safarian in pre-trial custody on charges of assaulting a police officer on New Year’s night.
Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian likewise formally dismissed Safarian’s request to release him from custody pending investigation.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to Kostanian on January 5, saying that Safarian is prosecuted for exercising his political rights and should therefore be set free. HRW went on to release a separate statement that denounced Safarian’s pre-trial arrest as “wholly unjustified.”
Safarian and dozens of other activists of the opposition New Armenia Public Salvation Front scuffled with riot police early on January 1 as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Liberty Square, the scene of anti-government rallies held by the radical grouping in December. Five of them were detained as a result.
All of the activists except Safarian were set free in the following hours. Safarian was charged with assaulting a police officer. The charge, rejected by New Armenia as baseless and politically motivated, carries up to five years in prison.
The Court of Appeals upheld Safarian’s arrest after a short hearing held in closed session. The oppositionist’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, said the court dismissed the HRW appeal cited by him at the hearing.
“We will now ask for his release on bail,” Hayrapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).“If they also refuse bail then I think we should appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.”
“It has long been clear to us that there are no independent courts in our country,” Zhirayr Sefilian, a New Armenia leader, said as about 20 activists of his movement rallied outside the court building in Yerevan. “The judges simply carry out orders issued by the government. They jailed Gevorg for political reasons.”