An Armenian opposition activist will remain behind bars even after completing his two-year prison sentence on January 1, a court in Yerevan ruled on Friday.
The activist, Gevorg Safarian, was among members of the Founding Parliament radical opposition movement who scuffled with riot police as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square early on January 1, 2016.
Safarian was arrested and accused of assaulting one of the officers, a charge which he and Founding Parliament rejected as politically motivated. A Yerevan court sentenced the outspoken activist to two years in prison in January this year.
Safarian, Founding Parliament’s arrested leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and several other men went on a separate trial in May, accused of plotting an armed revolt and “mass disturbances.” They strongly deny these charges as well.
A prosecutor in that trial said on Friday that despite having spent almost two years in jail Safarian must remain under arrest pending a verdict on the Sefilian case.
Safarian reacted angrily to the move, saying that President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration has decided to prolong his imprisonment. “It’s already clear that the judge has received an order and will keep me under arrest,” he declared before leaving the courtroom.
One of the defense lawyers, Tigran Yegorian, also walked out in protest. Two other attorneys, Tigran Hayrapetian and Arayik Papikian, tried unsuccessfully to have the presiding judge, Tatevik Grigorian, delay consideration of the prosecutor’s petition. They said they need time to come up with their counterarguments.
Grigorian ruled 20 minutes later that Safarian will not be set free on January 1.
“It’s clear that Gevorg Safarian is a victim of political persecution,” Papikian charged afterwards.
Safarian’s mother present in the courtroom also condemned the judge’s decision. “By punishing Gevorg they want to keep the people in fear so that they don’t revolt against the authorities,” she said.
In a January 2016 statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Safarian’s arrest as “wholly unjustified.” The New York-based watchdog said he is prosecuted for his political views and should be released from custody.