YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Seven prominent opposition figures arrested following Armenia’s February 2008 presidential election kept their high-profile trial in deadlock on Friday with their continuing refusal to treat the presiding judge with due respect.
The judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, adjourned court hearings until next Tuesday after the defendants again stayed demonstratively seated when he entered the courtroom. Armenian law obligates them as well as other trial participants to stand up at that point. The defendants, among them former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian and three parliament deputies, have refused to comply with this requirement ever since the trial started on December 19.
Arzumanian again scornfully suggested that Martirosian abandon the controversial case through self-immolation. He also claimed to be unaware of the requirement in question. “Who told us to stand up?” he said.
“Once again I remind that failure to stand up at the start of a court session is a gesture of disrespect that makes it impossible for the court to hold a hearing without disciplinary action,” Martirosian replied before ordering court guards to remove the defendants from the courtroom. The judge also stepped in to stop Hakob Hakobian, one of the three jailed parliamentarians, making offensive commen’s about his pro-government colleagues who lifted his immunity from prosecution in March.
The seven oppositionists are among some 70 supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian who remain imprisoned on charges mostly stemming from the post-election unrest in Yerevan. They stand accused of organizing “mass riots accompanied by murders” and attempting to “usurp state authority by force.” The defendants reject the accusations as politically motivated.
The trial got underway two days after the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for the first time described the jailed oppositionists as political prisoners. It said the PACE should therefore suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members at its next session scheduled for late January.
The Armenian authorities hope to avert such sanctions as a result of their negotiations with the Monitoring Committee’s two Armenia rapporteurs who are due to visit Yerevan next week. They have so far refused to release opposition detainees en masse.