Armen Charchian, who headed Yerevan’s Izmirlian Medical Center, was prosecuted after a non-governmental organization publicized a leaked audio recording of his pre-election meeting with hospital personnel.
Charchian, who ran for the parliament on the Hayastan ticket, told 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.
Charchian rejected the accusations as baseless and politically motivated before a Yerevan court allowed a law-enforcement agency on June 23 to arrest him pending investigation. Hayastan’s leadership, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which owns the hospital, as well as hundreds of medics have since demanded his release.
The high-profile trial of the 61-year-old doctor began on Monday. A judge presiding over the trial agreed to grant him bail. Charchian’s supporters present in the courtroom greeted the decision with rapturous applause.
“Unfortunately, it took justice so long to be done,” one of Charchian’s lawyers, Aram Vardevanian, told reporters. “The professor should have never been arrested in the first place.”
Another lawyer, Erik Aleksanian, insisted that his client is a victim of “political persecution” ordered by the government.
Aleksanian said earlier that the accusations are groundless because the leaked audio contains only a short excerpt from Charchian’s comments made at the meeting with the Izmirlian Medical Center staff. He said a longer recording presented by the defense lawyers shows that the hospital chief made clear he will not resort to “repression” against anyone refusing to go to the polls.
Charchian also denied any wrongdoing when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service shortly before his arrest. He said he only asked his staffers to vote on June 20 and did not threaten to fire anyone.
Prosecutors maintain, however, that his remarks amounted to election-related pressure and coercion prohibited by Armenian law.
In the leaked audio, Charchian also stressed the fact that the Armenian Apostolic Church is at currently loggerheads with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Charchian is one of Hayastan’s 29 election candidates elected to the Armenian parliament. His lawyers said that he will take up his parliament seat despite his ongoing trial.
If convicted, the surgeon will risk between four and seven years in prison.