Ashot Minasian was the commander of a volunteer militia from the southeastern town of Sisian that took part in the 1991-1994 and 2020 wars in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Minasian and three opposition figures were detained in November 2020 amid anti-government protests in Yerevan sparked by Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war with Azerbaijan stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
The National Security Service (NSS) charged them with plotting to kill Pashinian and overthrow his government. The NSS claimed to have found large quantities of weapons and ammunition in a property belonging to Minasian.
All four men rejected the charges as politically motivated before being freed by courts a few days later. One of them, Artur Vanetsian, headed the NSS from 2018-2019. He is now a leader of one of the two opposition groups represented in the Armenian parliament.
Acting on prosecutors’ appeal, Armenia’s Court of Cassation ordered lower courts in October this year to hold fresh hearings on Minasian’s pretrial detention.
A Yerevan court of first instance afterwards refused to remand him in custody. The higher Court of Appeals overturned that ruling on Wednesday.
Minasian’s ensuing arrest was strongly condemned by opposition politicians and other critics of Pashinian’s government. Aram Vardevanian, a lawyer and lawmaker representing the main opposition Hayastan bloc, called it a further blow to judicial independence in Armenia.
Earlier this year, the Armenian Ministry of Justice asked the country’s judicial watchdog to take disciplinary action against a judge who refused to issue an arrest warrant for Minasian in November 2020. The judge, Arman Hovannisian, described the move as government retribution for his decision.