Armenian Speaker Hints At Opposition Colleagues’ Release

armenianparliamentYEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian strongly hinted on Monday that three of his opposition colleagues arrested following last year’s post-election clashes in Yerevan may be released from prison soon.
Abrahamian gave such an indication as he explained the parliament leadership’s failure to schedule a debate on the fate of the jailed members of the National Assembly this spring. Such a debate was demanded by the opposition Heritage party.
The assembly had voted in March 2008 to lift Sasun Mikaelian’s, Hakob Hakobian’s and Miasnik Malkhasian’s immunity from prosecution after they were charged with plotting to overthrow the government and organizing “mass riots” for that purpose. The charges stemmed from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces.

The three lawmakers and four other opposition figures went on a collective trial in December that was halted in March after state prosecutors dropped the controversial coup charges brought against them. They have since been standing separate trials for allegedly provoking the post-election violence.

“I believe that processes are going in a positive way and that we will have a positive result,” said Abrahamian. “I am also concerned with the fate of our three colleagues and a positive solution to those processes.”

Abrahamian declined to clarify whether that means the opposition lawmakers’ release from jail is imminent. “Believe and trust in my words,” he told RFE/RL without elaborating.

Armen Martirosian, the Heritage Party’s parliamentary leader, found Abrahamian’s remarks encouraging. Still, he cautioned that representatives of the ruling coalition have made such assurances before and that those have failed to materialize.

Meanwhile, three more witnesses in the ongoing trials of the jailed parliamentarians retracted their pre-trial testimonies on Monday, saying that they were forced to incriminate the defendants. One of those witnesses, Gevorg Muradian, had testified that Hakobian had paid him and other men to build barricades and attack security forces on March 1, 2008.

“They beat me for three days. What else can I say?” Muradian said on Monday, explaining his decision to renounce his signed pre-trial claims.

Two other witnesses, Gurgen Hayrapetian and his brother Arayik, had given incriminating testimony against Malkhasian. They claimed on Monday that it was false and that they signed it because they did not want to be imprisoned.

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