An Armenian court refused on Tuesday to set free an opposition activist pending a verdict in his trial on charges of aiding gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan last year to demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The arrested activist, Andrias Ghukasian, offered to post bail shortly after the trial began in August. The presiding judge turned down the request as “unfounded,” prompting strong criticism from the defendant and his lawyer.
They demanded that another, more “impartial” judge take over the high-profile case. That demand was also rejected.
Ghukasian, was one of the organizers of demonstrations held in support of the gunmen affiliated with a fringe opposition group. The charges levelled against him stem from one of those rallies that was organized on July 29, 2016 in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood close to the besieged police base.
Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters after they refused to march back to the city center. Several organizers of the protest were arrested and charged with provoking “mass disturbances.” All of them except Ghukasian were subsequently released from custody.
The 47-year-old also stands accused of planning to have the protesters break through a police cordon, join the gunmen and thus prolong their standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead. He denies the accusations as politically motivated.
Ghukasian continued to insist on his innocence at Tuesday’s court hearing in Yerevan. He also said that the prosecution failed to substantiate the charges levelled against him.
“This is a clear political order executed by the prosecutor for reasons which I think are obvious to all of us,” he charged.
More than 60 protesters were injured and hospitalized in the Sari Tagh violence. The police say that 36 of their officers were injured by stones thrown from the crowd shortly before the violent breakup of the protest.
In a January report, Human Rights Watch said that the use of force against the protesters was “excessive and disproportionate.” The crackdown has also been criticized by Armenian human rights activists.