The trial of the key members of an armed opposition that seized a police station in Yerevan last year remained effectively paralyzed on Wednesday by continuing wrangling between the presiding judge and defense lawyers.
Two of the lawyers, Arayik Papikian and Mushegh Shushanian, were unable to attend the latest court hearing in the high-profile trial after refusing to let court bailiffs check the content of their bags on security grounds. They and their colleagues say that this amounts to a search not allowed by Armenian law.
The judge, Artur Gabrielian, sanctioned Papikian and Shushanian and said he will also ask Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates to take disciplinary action against them for what he considers contempt of court. Three other attorneys walked out of the courtroom in protest, leading Gabrielian to again cut short the proceedings.
The judge has regularly clashed with these and other lawyers for similar reasons since the start of the trial in early June. He has also barred most of the 14 defendants from the courtroom because of their refusal stand up and thus show respect for the district court. The lawyers claim that the authorities deliberately provoked the turmoil to hold the trial in their and their clients’ absence.
Papikian and Shushanian are already facing disciplinary proceedings launched by the Chamber of Advocates at the request of law-enforcement authorities. They stem, in part, from Shushanian’s characterization of the Armenian police as an “armed gang” ready to execute “any criminal order.”
Adding to the tensions was the alleged beating by police officers of four of the arrested gunmen following a court hearing on June 28. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) pledged to investigate the incident condemned by local and international human rights group.
The opposition group seized the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in June 2016. It demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free its jailed leader Zhirayr Sefilian and step down. The gunmen laid down their arms following a two-week standoff with Armenian security forces which left three police officers dead.