Arrested Kocharian Aide Declares Hunger Strike

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A close aide to President Robert Kocharian who is charged with involvement in last year’s shootings in the Armenian parliament–has gone on hunger strike–protesting his continuing arrest–his lawyer said on Thursday. The lawyer of Aleksan Harutiunian–Kocharian’s foreign policy adviser–said his client believes that charges leveled against him are baseless and took the action to demand the suspension of military prosecutors investigating the case.

"I don’t want to participate in illegalities committed by the investigating team," Harutiunian was quoted as saying in a statement from jail.

Eight senior officials–including Armenia’s former prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan–were shot dead when gunmen burst into the chamber on October 27. A total of 18 individuals–among them the five gunmen–have since been arrested in connection with the shock attack. Harutiunian–the most high-ranking of the suspects–is accused of inciting the gunmen.

Armenia’s chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian who runs the probe has said that the killings were most probably part of a coup attempt. But the defense counsel of the Kocharian aide–Ruben Sahakian–reiterated on Thursday his view that the investigators have found no evidence to back up the coup theory. "Jahangirian has fallen into his own trap and become hostage to his own hypothesis," Sahakian told a news conference. "He has arrested people and doesn’t know what to do next," the prominent Armenian lawyer added. "The investigation is headed to failure and they may try to prosecute people who have nothing to do with this case."

Lawyers of some of the other suspects have repeatedly accused the prosecutors of using force to extract false testimony–a charge they deny. Sahakian and Ruben Rshtuni–the lawyer of another key suspect–Harutiun Harutiunian of Armenian state television–also charged that the prosecutors violated Armenian law by using lie detectors when interrogating their clients. No further evidence has emerged from those interrogations–they said.

Critics of the investigators say their case is solely based on the controversial testimony given by Nairi Hunanian–the chief gunmen. Sahakian agreed with this argument–alleging that Jahangirian’s team is trying to "create non-existent evidence to save its face and prestige."

Some local observers have speculated that the case is being manipulated by Kocharian’s foes in the Armenian government for political aims. Prosecutor Jahangirian is close to the current Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan–the brother of the slain premier. The Armenian president has previously questioned the objectivity of the investigation but stopped short of condemning his aide’s arrest.

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