Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to order the release from custody of the owner of a TV station critical of the government and sympathetic to the jailed former President Robert Kocharian.
Armen Tavadian was arrested late last month following police allegations that Kocharian supporters are trying to bribe victims and witnesses of the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. He denied the resulting accusations leveled against him.
The Armenian police claimed earlier in December that one purported Kocharian backer, Varuzhan Mkrtchian, offered a man injured in the clashes with security forces to retract his testimony in return for cash.
Mkrtchian insisted that he on the contrary urged the man to repeat his pre-trial testimony in the court. He was detained but freed three days later despite being formally charged with trying to get the unidentified witness to commit perjury.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) brought the same accusation against Tavadian but decided that he should remain behind bars. A district court in Yerevan allowed the law-enforcement body to hold him in detention pending investigation.
Tavadian’s lawyers appealed against that decision. The Court of Appeals upheld it, however.
Tavadian is a staunch supporter of Kocharian who officially owns the Yerevan-based Fifth Channel. His arrest was condemned as politically motivated by Kocharian’s spokesman and political allies as well as other critics of the Armenian government.
They claim that the authorities fabricated the criminal case to step up their pressure on the ex-president and silence the TV station that airs criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on a virtually daily basis. The authorities dismiss these claims.
Tavadian’s lawyer, Samvel Khudoyan, said the fact that the SIS freed the other suspect but decided to hold his client in detention testifies to its unequal treatment of the two indicted men.
“According to the investigating body, Mr. Tavadian must remain arrested until he makes a confession,” Khudoyan told reporters after the Court of Appeals concluded hearings on his appeal late on Monday.
Kocharian’s younger son Levon also denounced the SIS’s “bias” against Tavadian. He was among a group of sympathizers of the arrested TV channel owner who rallied outside the court building during the hearings. They also included Armen Ashotian, the deputy chairman of the opposition Republican Party of Armenia led by another former president, Serzh Sarkisian.
“These authorities have turned pre-trial arrest into a tool for punishment,” charged Ashotian. “That they are going after the Fifth Channel was visible in the last one and a half years, but these latest actions are simply outrageous.”
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, stands accused of accepting hefty bribes and illegally using army units against opposition supporters who protested in Yerevan in the wake of a disputed presidential election. He denies the accusations, saying that Pashinian, who was one of the leaders of the 2008 protests, is waging a “vendetta” against him.