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Armenian Mayor Freed But Indicted


Armenia -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (L), Goris Mayor Arush Arushanian (C) and other officials walk through the center of the town, September 12, 2020.

A court in Yerevan ordered a law-enforcement agency on Tuesday to release the mayor of the Armenian town of Goris who was arrested after calling for civil disobedience against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Nevertheless, the Investigative Committee leveled a string of criminal charges against the 29-year-old mayor, Arush Arushanian. It also asked the court to remand him in pre-trial custody.

Arushanian was among the heads of more than a dozen communities in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province who issued earlier this month statements condemning Pashinian’s handling of the war with Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation. They accused him of putting Syunik’s security at grave risk with Armenian troop withdrawals completed over the weekend.

Arushanian urged Goris residents late on Sunday to block a regional highway and not allow Pashinian to visit Syunik. He was arrested several hours later.

It emerged afterwards that Arushanian is suspected of organizing an illegal gathering. The Investigative Committee said he is also a suspect in several criminal investigations conducted by it.

Arushanian’s lawyer and supporters said that the arrest is politically motivated. The lawyer, Armen Melkonian, challenged it in court.

The Yerevan court found the Arushanian’s arrest unjustified and ordered his release.

“This is a political persecution,” Arushanian told reporters after being set free.

The mayor defended the road blockade that forced Pashinian to cut short a visit to Syunik on Monday. “That man has no right to enter Syunik because he has handed over territory defended by the people of Syunik and vital for their security to the enemy,” he said.

Shortly after the court order, the Investigative Committee said that Arushanian has been formally charged with organizing the unsanctioned protest, abusing his powers, engaging in illegal business activity and violent assault, and violating environmental protection norms. It did not say whether the investigators will ask the court to remand the mayor in pre-trial custody.

Melkonian described the accusations as “laughable” while saying he is not yet familiar with their details.

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