Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Wednesday again refused to set free an arrested opposition activist despite prosecutors’ admission that the high-profile criminal case against him is flawed.
It upheld a lower court’s refusal to order Gevorg Safarian’s release on bail.
Both courts also rejected earlier this year Safarian’s petitions challenging the legality of his pre-trial detention which has been criticized as politically motivated by local and international human rights organizations.
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 Safarian was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer, a charge he and New Armenia strongly deny.
The activist was due to go on trial in the coming days. However, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General delayed the trial on Monday by refusing to endorse the text of Safarian’s indictment submitted by the Investigative Committee. The prosecutors ordered the law-enforcement body to conduct an “additional investigation” into the January 1 incident.
Safarian’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, predicted that the investigators will seek to have his client’s pre-trial arrest, which expires on April 1, again extended. “Apparently the prosecutors realized that they cannot defend an indictment based on such blatant violations in court and sent it back so that they come up with more substantiated evidence,” he said. “So they will probably find new ‘witnesses,’ who are not police officers, who will come to the court and testify [against Safarian.]”
Hayrapetian also condemned the high court’s refusal to free the oppositionist. “The judge had no grounds to reject our petition,” he said. “He read out the verdict with a compassionate look, and you could see that he disagrees with it.”
The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian on January 5, saying that Safarian is prosecuted for exercising his political rights. HRW went on to release a separate statement that denounced Safarian’s detention as “wholly unjustified.”
Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian insisted later in January, however, that Safarian is not a political prisoner.