Professor Armen Charchian, the director of the Izmirlian Medical Center, was prosecuted after a non-governmental organization publicized last week 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 or face “much tougher treatment” by the hospital management.
He was indicted under an article of the Criminal Code that prohibits any coercion of voters.
A Yerevan court allowed the Special Investigative Service (SIS) late on Wednesday to arrest Charchian and hold him in pre-trial detention.
It emerged afterwards that the renowned surgeon was hospitalized shortly before the court ruling. He was understood to remain in another Yerevan hospital on Thursday.
“Mr. Charchian has been suffering from diabetes for more than 20 years,” one of his lawyers, Erik Aleksanian, told reporters. “He also underwent serious heart surgery recently.”
Aleksanian insisted that the accusations are groundless because the leaked audio contains only a short excerpt from his comments made at the meeting with the Izmirlian Medical Center staff. He said a longer recording submitted by defense lawyers to the court shows that Charchian assured his staffers that he will not resort to “repression” against anyone refusing to go to the polls.
Charchian also told them that the Armenian Apostolic Church, which owns the hospital, does not want Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to stay in power. Prosecutors say this amounted to ordering the hospital staff to vote against Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
Aleksanian denied that. The lawyer said his client made clear at the start of the meeting that he is not going to agitate for or against any political group.
Meanwhile, the church’s Echmiadzin-based Mother See issued another statement on Thursday condemning Charchian’s “unfounded persecution” and demanding that the authorities revoke the arrest warrant.
“Distinguished doctor Armen Charchian has saved thousands of lives in the most difficult situations and is continuing, as head of the Izmirlian Medical Center, to wholeheartedly serve our people and fatherland,” read the statement.
Hayastan, which finished second in the elections, says that the charges leveled against Charchian are government retribution for his affiliation with the ruling party’s main election challenger.
More than a hundred members and supporters of the opposition alliance led by former President Robert Kocharian gathered outside the Office of the Prosecutor-General to demand an end to the criminal proceedings.
Hayastan and another major opposition bloc, Pativ Unem, claim that public sector employees openly supporting them were harassed and even fired by government officials in the run-up to the polls. They have also accused central and provincial government bodies of forcing their employees to attend the ruling Civil Contract party’s rallies. Civil Contract leaders deny these allegations.