YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — About three dozen Armenian nongovernmental organizations have called on the authorities to immediately stop the “political persecution” against Andrias Ghukasian and release the opposition activist who has been in jail for more than a year and a half for his alleged role in the standoff between pro-opposition gunmen and security forces.
Ghukasian, a 47-year-old former presidential candidate who has been a member of the radical opposition New Armenia movement, is now on trial on charges of aiding Sasna Tsrer group members who seized and held for two weeks a police station in Yerevan in July 2016 demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The oppositionist was one of the organizers of demonstrations held in support of the gunmen affiliated with a fringe opposition group. The charges leveled against him stem from one of those rallies that was organized on July 29, 2016 in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood close to the besieged police base.
Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters after they refused to march back to the city center. Several organizers of the protest were arrested and charged with provoking “mass disturbances.” All of them except Ghukasian were subsequently released from custody. Investigators said Ghukasian planned to have the protesters break through a police cordon, join the gunmen and thus prolong their standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead. The opposition activist denies the accusations as politically motivated.
The court refused to grant Ghukasian bail as the presiding judge turned down his request as “unfounded,” prompting strong criticism from the defendant and his lawyer.
In a joint statement issued on Monday the Armenian organizations, including the Asparez club of journalists, the Armenian Helsinki Association, the Union of Informed Citizens, the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, the Yerevan Press Club and others expressed their “strong concern and indignation at the continuing political persecution” against Ghukasian.
“Local and international organizations have repeatedly raised the issue and registered that the authorities ‘punish’ Andrias Ghukasian for his political views. However, these assessments continue to be ignored not only by the Armenian authorities, but also by international organizations cooperating with the Armenian authorities,” the statement of the organizations reads.
“At the appeal hearings concerning the court’s decision to refuse to grant bail to Ghukasian the judge asked Ghukasian whether he would continue his opposition activities if he were released. And getting the affirmative answer from Ghukasian, the Court of Appeal decided not to change the restraining measure against him, leaving him in jail.”
The civil society organizations mentioned that in February 2017 the European Court of Human Rights registered Ghukasian’s complaint on this account and suggested that the European Union and other international organizations cooperating with Armenia “make the demand for an end to political persecutions and, in particular, the persecution against Andrias Ghukasian one of the main preconditions for their developing relations with the Republic of Armenia.”
From the European Court of Human Rights, meanwhile, the organizations demanded “consistency and responsibility” in examining cases involving political motives.
Government officials deny that any people have been convicted or prosecuted for their political views in Armenia.