GLENDALE — In the preceding weeks, the Armenian Bar Association has closely monitored the arrest of Hrachya Harutyunyan, a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, as well as the ensuing criminal charges stemming from a traffic accident which resulted in multiple fatalities and injuries.

It goes without saying that the loss of lives and the infliction of injuries to persons of any nationality are lamentable developments. The lives lost and injuries suffered in the Moscow-area traffic accident in which Mr. Harutyunyan was involved are no exceptions. We extend our condolences to the families and friends of those who died and to the survivors for whom we hope a speedy recovery.

We, as an organization which has for more than twenty years been involved in the development of the rule of law in the former Soviet Union, must now turn to the rights and responsibilities of the accused, Mr. Harutyunyan. Therefore, we must consider the plight of this defendant in the Russian legal system in the context of governing legal requirements and standards.

Hrachya HarutyunyanThe post-arrest proceedings could not have gotten off to a worse start, both for Mr. Harutyunyan and for Russia’s criminal justice apparatus, revealing as it did only lip-service to ensuring the rule of law and decency.

We, along with millions of other viewers of video footage of the accused’s initial appearance in court, witnessed the discriminatory, demoralizing and degrading treatment of an Armenian citizen in a Russian court while, before our very eyes, Mr. Harutyunyan was paraded, parodied and pilloried in open court as he was forced by the authorities to wear a female bathrobe and slippers.

He was made to answer the serious legal charges against him wearing these purposefully-demeaning vestments. The images of a clearly-devastated Harutyunyan are indelible reminders of the importance of the due process of law, something which Mr. Harutyunyan was, right from the start, denied.

We feel compelled to declare and demand that Mr. Harutyunyan’s civil rights, irrespective of culpability or innocence, be fully respected; that he be treated humanely and in accordance with international and Russia’s own stated standards of due process; and that he be given a modicum of dignity and safety as opposed to the record of his being mistreated and abused psychologically, if not physically.

A review of the Russian Federation’s laws affecting foreign nationals reveals that the country’s legal codes pass the test of civility and comportment with accepted norms of equal protection. On the other hand, Russia’s recent courtroom ridicule of Mr. Harutyunyan has resulted in a colossal failure of that test. Article 49 and Article 62 of Chapter 2 of Section 1 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, respectively, afford presumptive notions of innocence to an accused and guarantee equal rights to non-Russian citizen individuals. Russia’s courts would do well to follow its legislative mandates.

We welcome the Russian Federation’s lawmakers’ legislative intent to provide the universally-recognized protection of individuals’ rights to their citizenry and also to foreign nationals on their soil.

Russia’s stated deference to the rule of law must be given real and practical meaning in the case of Hrachya Harutyunyan.

Now is the time and this is the case in which to demonstrate that the words which are written into law in Russia, and everywhere for that matter, actually mean something.

And we hope that certain words resonate more favorably than those uttered by the Mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, who, right after the accident, shamefully and publicly espoused the discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals, including, by implication, Mr. Harutyunyan.

We expect from the Russian authorities their adherence to and respect for the civil and human rights of the accused in this matter. Anything less is an insult to its legal foundations, to its citizenry and to all those who, like us, hold out hope for Russia ‘s continuing transition to become one of the world’s leading democracies.

Armenian Bar Association

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