In a move requested by political allies of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a court in Yerevan ordered on Wednesday the immediate release of a member of the armed opposition group that stormed an Armenian police base in 2016.
The court freed Areg Kyureghian pending the outcome of one of three ongoing trials stemming from the deadly attack on the base located in Yerevan’s Erebuni district.
The court cited a written guarantee signed by two members of Armenia’s parliament. They promised that that Kyureghian will not flee prosecution and posted bail worth 1 million drams (just over $2,000). Both lawmakers are affiliated with Pashinian’s Yelk alliance.
Significantly, a trial prosecutor did not object to Kyureghian’s release.
Kyureghian was freed in the courtroom the day after the provisional release from prison of his brother Hayk. The latter was arrested in 2014 and subsequently sentenced to 9 years in prison for firing gunshots to protest against the trial of 14 radical opposition activists that had staged a violent anti-government demonstration in Yerevan.
Hayk Kyureghian will have to only spend nights in the Vartashen prison if he finds a job within a month.
Speaking to reporters, Areg Kyureghian attributed his release to a “new situation” resulting from the recent mass protests that brought down Armenia’s previous government.He described his jailed comrades as political prisoners and said they too must be freed.
Kyureghian is one of three dozen members and supporters of a fringe opposition group, Founding Parliament, who seized the Erebuni police compound in July 2016. They demanded that then President Serzh Sarkisian free Founding Parliament’s jailed leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down.
The gunmen, who took police officers and medical personnel hostage, laid down their weapons after a two-week standoff with security forces which left three other policemen dead.
Pashinian has publicly listed Sefilian, but not the jailed gunmen, among the individuals who he believes were imprisoned for political reasons. Shortly after being elected prime minister on May 8, he said the Erebuni attack case is “a bit different” because of the three casualties. He said it should be resolved as a result of public “discussions” that must involve relatives of the slain policemen.
Later in May, Sefilian and Varuzhan Avetisian, who led the armed group called Sasna Tsrer, denounced Pashinian for his reluctance to pressurize courts and law-enforcement bodies into freeing all radical oppositionists. In an open letter, they warned that their continued imprisonment could have “severe consequences” for Armenia. The premier rejected “the threats of violence.”
The Sasna Tsrer members issued a very different statement on Tuesday. They voiced strong support for Pashinian’s government and said they are renouncing violent methods of political struggle.