European Union officials have expressed concern over the continuing detention of opposition activist Gevorg Safarian and other critics of the Armenian government.
The head of the EU Delegation in Armenia, Piotr Switalski, said on Tuesday that EU representatives raised the matter at the latest session of their “human rights dialogue” with the government held in Yerevan last week.
“We believe that the pre-trial arrest of that activist [Safarian] is not commensurate with the situation,” Switalski told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We also brought up the cases of other individuals who are in prison and, in our view, were not treated in a commensurate way,” he said. The EU envoy did not name them.
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 Yerevan’s Liberty Square. 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 this week. However, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General delayed the trial on March 14 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.
Two days after that order, Armenia’s Court of Appeals refused to release Safarian from custody on bail. The Investigative Committee also seems in no mood to free him pending trial, despite the concerns voiced by EU officials.
It emerged on Tuesday that the investigators have asked a district court in Yerevan to extend the oppositionist’s pre-trial arrest, which expires on April 1, by one and a half months.The court is due to consider the petition later this week.
Safarian’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, criticized the investigators’ stance. He said the prosecutors’ refusal to rubber-stamp the criminal case against his client is further proof that the charges are baseless.
“Gevorg Safarian remains under arrest because of his political views,” insisted the lawyer.
The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) likewise declared that Safarian is prosecuted for exercising his political rights when it wrote to Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian on January 5. HRW went on to release a separate statement that denounced Safarian’s detention as “wholly unjustified.”