Amid growing uproar from opposition leaders, civil society members and independent media, an Armenian court ordered on Friday the release of a prominent activist who frequently stages lone protests against the government.
The Iranian-born activist, Vardges Gaspari, was arrested on February 19 for allegedly shouting abuse at the judge presiding over his ongoing trial on charges of insulting a police officer. Law-enforcement authorities also cited Gaspari’s failure to attend court hearings in the trial. Police officers have had to literally carry him from his home to a court house in Yerevan ahead of every hearing.
Gaspari’s arrest was condemned as politically motivated by critics of the Armenian government. They reacted angrily after he claimed to have been assaulted by cellmates in the city’s Nubarashen prison. Investigators’ decision to subject him to a psychiatric examination earlier this week only added to the outrage.
Around two dozen members of the Armenian parliament signed a petition demanding his immediate release. Several youth activists lay down on the ground in front of the presidential administration building in Yerevan on Wednesday and Thursday, imitating Gaspari’s trademark method of protesting against government policy.
Government officials have denied any political motives behind his arrest. They have also said that they will not intervene in the high-profile case.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals, meanwhile, ordered the investigators to release Gaspari from custody pending a lower court verdict on the case. The maverick activist was set free before attending a fresh hearing in his trial later on Friday.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Gaspari said that he continues to consider the Armenian police “murderers” because of their role in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan, which left ten people dead and dozens of others wounded.