Babayan’s Trial in Armenia Problematic Lawyers Say

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The continuing uncertainty of Nagorno-Karabakh’s international status calls into question the legitimacy of deman’s by the former commander of the disputed enclave’s army–General Samvel Babayan–that his upcoming trial on coup charges be held in Armenia–leading Armenian lawyers said on Friday.

Babayan–who was Karabakh’s most powerful figure a year ago and is accused of plotting to overthrow the current authorities in Stepanakert–declared a hunger strike on Thursday–saying that only an Armenian court can guarantee him a fair trial. In a statement released from jail–the general claimed that a Karabakh court can not hold "impartial and objective proceedings" because the main victim of the crime he is charged with masterminding is the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic–Arkady Ghoukassian. Ghoukassian was seriously wounded on March 22 when gunmen opened fire on his limousine.

Karabakh prosecutors say that the foiled assassination bid was the work of Babayan who thus wanted to regain his once dominant status in the Armenian-populated territory. But critics–many of whom are supporters of the ex-commander–counter that they lack evidence to prove that theory and have mistreated suspects to extract testimony.

According to Gagik Ghazinian–president of Armenia’s biggest lawyers association–"legal uncertainty" surrounding Karabakh’s status makes it difficult to judge how justified Babayan’s deman’s for a trial in Armenia are. In an interview with RFE/RL–Ghazinian said meeting those deman’s is problematic given that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic considers itself a "different state" independent of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

He said a Babayan trial on Armenian territory would be "logical" if Armenia viewed Karabakh as its integral part–something which successive governmen’s in Yerevan have refused to do. Another lawyer–Tigran Yesayan–said there are "no legal grounds" for such a trial.

In his statement–Babayan also demanded that Karabakh law-enforcement agencies "take measures to prevent further deterioration of my health condition." He alleged that he was "twice subjected to beating" and suffered serious injuries.

The torture allegations were earlier made by his lawyers and family members. "Having spent around four months in the jail of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Department of National Security I am deprived of the legally guaranteed possibility to go for a walk [in the prison courtyard] and breathe fresh air," the 35-year-old former war hero claimed.

Babayan also effectively denied prosecutors’ claim that he has pled guilty to the charges.

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