A third court hearing in the trial of radical opposition members who seized a police station in Yerevan last year lasted for only several minutes amid chaotic scenes on Wednesday.
The presiding judge, Artush Gabrielian, ordered police officers to remove from the courtroom three of the 14 arrested gunmen standing trial on a range of criminal charges, including illegal seizure of government buildings and weapons and hostage taking.
The decision sparked uproar from the defendants’ supporters and relatives present in the courtroom. They scuffled with court bailiffs and policemen while angrily protesting against it.
Ara Gharagyozian, the lawyer for one of the three defendants, Areg Kyureghian, said his client was dragged away by law-enforcement officers after only trying to pass a short note on to him. He said he suspects that Kyureghian and the two other men, Smbat Barseghian and Mkhitar Avetisian, were ill-treated immediately after being forced out of the courtroom.
Tension also ran high outside the district court building in Yerevan where riot police confronted dozens of other sympathizers of the gunmen. The police refused to let them enter the building, citing a lack of space in the courtroom. One man was detained on the spot and released from police custody later in the day.
The judge cut short the court session, citing the absence of some defense lawyers. The latter refused to attend the hearing after court bailiffs again attempted to check the content of their bags ostensibly for security reasons.
The lawyers refused to comply with their demands, saying that Armenian law does not allow security personnel to search them. They argued that neither they nor their colleagues have been required to undergo such checks in other court cases. They claimed that the authorities are subjecting them to what they consider a humiliating procedure for the purpose of continuing the trial in the absence of defendants and their attorneys.
The head of Armenia’s Judicial Department, Karen Poladian, insisted that the security “inspections” do not constitute searches and are therefore legal when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) later in the day. “There have been no attempts by court bailiffs to search any individual entering the court,” Poladian said. “Some lawyers’ claims that they are searched are the result of their imagination.”
Three other defendants were removed from the courtroom during the previous, equally short hearing held on June 21. One of them, Varuzhan Avetisian, called for supporters to mount an “armed uprising” and “physically destroy” President Serzh Sarkisian. He may face more criminal charges because of that.
Avetisian led the armed opposition group that stormed the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in July last year. The gunmen demanded that Sarkisian free Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, and step down. They laid down their arms following a two-week standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead.