An Armenian opposition activist went on trial on Friday almost five months after being arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer which he denies as politically motivated and baseless.
Safarian was among dozens of members of the New Armenia Public Salvation Front, a radical opposition group, who scuffled with riot police early on January 1 as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Several New Armenia activists were detained as a result. All of them except Safarian were set free a few hours later. New Armenia insists that they themselves were attacked by the police.
Safarian was charged with injuring a police officer and remanded in pre-trial custody. Armenian courts have since repeatedly refused to release him despite written pledges by opposition parliamentarians guaranteeing that the activist will not flee the country if set free.
Later in January, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded Safarian’s immediate release, saying that he is prosecuted for his political views.
New Armenia members greeted the outspoken oppositionist with applause as he was brought into a Yerevan courtroom at the start of his trial. His lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, insisted that Safarian is a political prisoner and again demanded his release.
Hayrapetian also demanded that the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, pass on the case to another judge. He argued that Martirosian is notorious for having sentenced other prominent opposition members on equally dubious charges.
“You are one of the few judges hearing such cases,” the lawyer told Martirosian. “This has created a public perception that you are a judge with a unique ability to justify the authorities’ abuses.”
Martirosian rejected the demand.