Lawyers for Zhirayr Sefilian demanded on Tuesday his immediate release from prison, insisting that the radical opposition politician arrested last week did not plan to mount an armed revolt against Armenia’s government.
Sefilian was taken into custody on May 20 for allegedly acquiring large quantities of weapons and cobbling together an attack squad with the aim of seizing government buildings and other important facilities in Yerevan.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities also announced the arrest of six other individuals. The case against Sefilian is apparently based on testimony given by some of them. The oppositionist and other leading members of his New Armenia Public Salvation Front, a radical opposition alliance, deny the charges as politically motivated.
Other, mainstream opposition leaders have also alleged political motives behind the case. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia maintains, however, that there are no political prisoners in the country.
Sefilian’s lawyers, Ara Zakarian and Tigran Hayrapetian, said they have petitioned Armenia’s Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision to remand their client in pre-trial custody. They said the court failed to substantiate that decision.
Zakarian also suggested that other arrested suspects were forced to incriminate the outspoken oppositionist. He said Sefilian was brought face to face and questioned with one of those suspects on Monday. While denying the charges levelled against him, Sefilian again refused to answer investigators’ questions, the lawyer told journalists.
Varuzhan Avetisian, a senior New Armenia figure, reiterated, meanwhile, that none of the arrested men except Sefilian is affiliated with the opposition group. “I don’t exclude that I may recognize some of them by face,” he said. “Armenia is a small country and I may have seen some of them somewhere.”
Avetisian also stood by New Armenia claims that Sefilian was arrested because of planning to launch a campaign against the Armenian government’s alleged plans to make territorial concessions to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sefilian announced on June 11 plans to set up a new anti-government group called the National Resistance Committee. He said will strive to topple President Serzh Sarkisian “with the help of the people and the army.”
New Armenia, which also comprises Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun party, already tried to bring down the government with a series of street protests staged in Yerevan in December. The campaign failed because of poor attendance of the rallies.