Professor Armen Charchian, the director of the Izmirlian Medical Center, was first detained last Friday after a non-governmental organization publicized a leaked audio recording of his meeting with hospital personnel.
Charchian, who ran for the parliament on the opposition Hayastan bloc’s ticket, can be heard telling them that they must vote in the snap elections. “After the elections I will take voter lists and see who went to the polls and who didn’t,” he warns.
A Yerevan court freed Charchian from custody on Saturday before he was formally charged under a Criminal Code article carrying between four and seven years in prison. The court allowed the Special Investigative Service (SIS) on Wednesday to arrest and hold him in detention pending investigation.
A lawyer for Charchian, Erik Andreasian, said he will appeal against the decision. “Mr. Charchian is subjected to political persecution,” he told reporters.
Hayastan, which is led by former President Robert Kocharian, has also condemned the criminal proceedings as politically motivated.
Speaking after a court hearing on Tuesday, Charchian insisted that he did not coerce the medics to participate in the elections and vote for Hayastan. He also denied threatening to fire them.
Charchian claimed that he only warned his staffers that they should no longer count on their and their relatives’ preferential medical treatment at the Izmirlian Medical Center if they do not heed his appeal.
Prosecutors maintain, however, that his remarks amounted to election-related pressure and coercion prohibited by Armenian law.
In the leaked audio, Charchian also stresses the fact that the Armenian Apostolic Church, which owns the hospital, does not want Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to stay in power.
“I’m not telling you to vote for this or that candidate. The position of the Mother See [of the church] is that one must not vote for the current authorities,” he says.
The office of Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the church, deplored Charchian’s first detention and demanded his release. It did not immediately react to the last court decision.
According Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, law-enforcement authorities have so far brought election-related criminal charges against 16 individuals, among them 7 election candidates.
Virtually all of them are opposition members and supporters accused of trying to buy votes. They are mostly affiliated with the Pativ Unem alliance co-headed by former President Serzh Sarkisian and former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian.
“If their guilt is proven during the investigations in a credible manner I will accept those results,” Vanetsian said on Wednesday. “If the opposite is proven I will say this is another case of the authorities persecuting us.”
No government officials and loyalists are known to have been arrested or indicted so far.
The Pativ Unem and Hayastan blocs claim that public sector employees openly supporting them have been harassed and even fired by government officials in the run-up to the elections. They have also accused central and provincial government bodies of forcing their employees to attend the ruling Civil Contract party’s rallies.