The tense trial of Zhirayr Sefilian, a radical opposition figure, and six other men accused of plotting an armed revolt against the Armenian government continued on Tuesday in the absence of most defendants and their lawyers.
Sefilian, who leads the Founding Parliament opposition movement, was arrested in June 2016 for allegedly forming an armed group to seize government buildings in Yerevan. He denies the charges as politically motivated.
Sefilian and the six other suspects also kept under arrest went on trial in late May. The several court hearings on the case held to date have been marred by tense verbal exchanges between defendants and their attorneys and the presiding judge, Tatevik Grigorian.
At the previous hearing held last week Grigorian ordered Sefilian’s and three other defendants’ removal from the courtroom for contempt of court. Their lawyers walked out of the courtroom in protest.
Grigorian told them on Tuesday that their lawyers will be disqualified from the trial because of their failure to attend its last three sessions. She said they must therefore hire new lawyers or be represented by state-appointed attorneys.
“I won’t abandon my lawyers,” responded Sefilian. “Keep your lawyers for yourself,” he said before being again taken away by law-enforcement officers.
“The court has no right to appoint my lawyer,” said Gevorg Safarian, another arrested Founding Parliament member. “I won’t authorize any other lawyer to act on my behalf.”
The 30-year-old judge eventually ruled that Sefilian and another defendant, Nerses Poghosian, will be represented by other attorneys picked by them. The two other defendants, she said, will get public defenders against their will.
Two lawyers walked out of the courtroom after bitterly arguing with the judge afterwards. “They want to silence us and stop us from decrying abuses committed in the courtroom,” one of them, Ara Papikian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sefilian’s arrest came less than one month before three dozen armed men affiliated with Founding Parliament seized a police station in Yerevan. The gunmen demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free their leader and step down. They surrendered to law-enforcement authorities following a two-week standoff which left three police officers dead.