Armen Grigorian, a well-known entertainment producer, collapsed in the courtroom as his lawyer petitioned the presiding judge to release him from custody. Grigorian, 56, was pronounced dead by an ambulance crew that arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later.
“They took resuscitation measures but to no avail,” Taguhi Stepanian, the head of the national ambulance service, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Stepanian said a forensic examination will ascertain the cause of Grigorian’s sudden death.
Grigorian, who for years harshly criticized Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, was arrested and indicted on May 18 in connection with a 2021 video in which he made disparaging comments about residents of two Armenian regions sympathetic to the government. The National Security Service accused him of offending their “national dignity.”
Grigorian as well as opposition figures and other government critics rejected the accusations as politically motivated. They said the fact that he is held in detention pending investigation only proves that he is a political prisoner.
Human rights activists also criticized the criminal proceedings. Some of them linked the case to daily antigovernment protests launched by the Armenian opposition on May 1.
The state human rights defender, Kristine Grigorian (no relation to Armen), expressed outrage at the antigovernment activist’s death, saying that he clearly did not receive adequate medical care in prison. She said she has demanded “clarifications” from prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice, which runs Armenia’s prisons.
“I will be consistent in bringing the culprits to justice,” the ombudswoman wrote on Facebook.
Neither the ministry nor the law-enforcement authorities issued any statements on Armen Grigorian’s death as of Friday evening.
Grigorian’s lawyer, Ruben Melikian, said that his client, who was a medic by education, suffered from serious “health problems.”
“He never let us speak up about those problems in the court and other bodies,” Melikian said, speaking at an opposition rally in Yerevan held in the evening.
Organizers and participants of the rally observed a minute of silence in memory of Grigorian. Some of them also held his pictures.
Opposition leaders addressing the crowd blamed the authorities and Pashinian in particular for the outspoken public figure’s death.
“Armen Grigorian died at the hands of these authorities with the direct participation of the investigator, the judge and the prosecutor acting on their orders,” one of them, Ishkhan Saghatelian, charged.
The demonstrators chanted “Nikol murderer!” as they marched to the prime minister’s office and a Yerevan court that sanctioned Grigorian’s arrest in May. Many of them lit candles and laid flowers outside the court building.
Over the past year, the opposition has regularly accused Pashinian’s administration of weaponizing pre-trial arrests to try to neutralize its members and supporters fighting for regime change.
More than two dozen such individuals are currently under arrest on charges stemming from the continuing antigovernment protests. Most of them are accused of assaulting riot police. The authorities maintain that the accusations are not politically motivated.