YEREVAN — Opposition activist Andrias Ghukasian was released from custody on Monday pending a verdict in his trial on charges of aiding gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 to demand then President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Ghukasian, was one of the organizers of demonstrations held in support of the armed members of a fringe opposition group. The charges levelled against him stem from one of those rallies 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.
The 47-year-old also stands accused of planning 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. He denies the accusations as politically motivated.
Ghukasian offered to post bail shortly after he went on trial in August last year. The judge in the case turned down the request as “unfounded,” prompting strong criticism from the defendant and his lawyer.
Ghukasian was freed in the courtroom this time around in return for a written pledge not to leave Yerevan until the judge, Vartan Grigorian, hands down a verdict in the case. A trial prosecutor objected to his release.
The court order followed a dramatic change of the political situation in Armenia. Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian, who is widely expected to become Armenia’s prime minister on Tuesday, has repeatedly described Ghukasian as a political prisoner.