Avetik Chalabian went on trial on July 26 and walked free from a prison about 50 kilometers west of Yerevan the following day because of the expiry of his detention period sanctioned by a court.
During the trial a prosecutor did not ask the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, to extend the detention and proposed that Chalabian be granted bail instead. Nevertheless, Martirosian decided to send him back to the prison.
The veteran judge is notorious for having rarely made decisions going against the current and former Armenian authorities’ wishes.
Chalabian and his lawyers condemned his latest decision as illegal. The 49-year-old oppositionist claimed that it was ordered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
“You should ask Nikol Pashinian why the holder of the post of the country’s prime minister is going after a particular individual,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in the courtroom.
“As soon as there emerges a political alternative that has no connection with the former authorities … these people [in power] immediately shatter the main rationale for their rule,” he said.
Chalabian was first arrested on May 13 on charges of trying to pay university students to participate in anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan.
The charges are based on leaked audio of short fragments of his conversation with the head of the student council of the Armenian National Agrarian University. Law-enforcement authorities say it shows that Chalabian offered 2 million drams ($4,800) for the presence of 2,000 students at daily opposition rallies in Yerevan that began on May 1.
Chalabian’s lawyers say that the recording was doctored by the authorities. They have repeatedly demanded the release of full audio of the conversation.
Chalabian, who leads a small opposition party, has also accused the authorities of forcing his younger brother Ara to resign from Armenia’s Central Bank because of his political activities.
Ara Chalabian headed the bank’s Department of Corporate Services and Development until announcing last week that he is “no longer working at the Central Bank.” He gave no reason for his exit.
Armenian news websites claimed earlier in July that the bank chairman, Martin Galstian, told Chalabian to quit, citing an order from Pashinian. The Central Bank and Pashinian’s office did not confirm or refute those reports.