The leader of an armed Armenian opposition group that seized a police station in Yerevan last year may face more criminal charges after calling for President Serzh Sarkisian’s “physical destruction” at his ongoing trial.
Varuzhan Avetisian and 13 other key members of the group went on trial on June 8 nearly one year after their standoff with Armenian security forces, which left three police officers dead. They seized the police base in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district on July 17, 2016, demanding that President Serzh Sarkisian free Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, and step down. The gunmen laid down their arms two weeks later.
Speaking at a second court hearing in the trial on June 21, Avetisian said: “I’m calling for an armed uprising. People, take up arms and physically destroy Serzhik and his gang.”
The presiding judge responded by ordering Avetisian’s expulsion from the courtroom.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that Avetisian’s statement amounted to a public call for a violent overthrow of the country’s leadership, a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. It said it has instructed another law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, to launch a criminal inquiry under a corresponding article of the Armenian Criminal Code.
One of Avetisian’s lawyers, Tigran Yegorian, insisted that his client did not call for violent regime change. He said Avetisian wants to “restore constitutional order” and “return power to the people from the group that usurped it.”
During the June 21 hearing, the judge in the case, Artush Gabrielian, also had two other defendants removed from the courtroom for what he saw as a contempt of court. The gunmen’s lawyers claimed on Monday that Gabrielian is keen to take such sanctions against all defendants and continue the trial in their absence.
More than 60 persons are prosecuted in connection with the Erebuni attack on a range of charges, including illegal seizure of government buildings and weapons and hostage taking. Two of them, who are on trial with Avetisian, also stand accused of murdering the three policemen. They deny the charges.