Public Hearing Closed to the Public? Case of Armenian Activist Shant Harutyunyan and Supporters15:17, 12 June, 2014
The first hearing in the case of Shant Harutyunyan and the 13 other men arrested with him was held today in the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan.
The 14 men, who have been in pre-trial detention for 7 months, are accused of "hooliganism" in an incident with police that occurred on Mashtots Avenue in central Yerevan on November 5, 2013. On this day, Harutyunyan, calling for an anti-government revolution, prepared to march to the presidential palace with dozens of his supporters, many of whom were armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades. The group, however, was stopped by police, and in the altercation that followed, Harutyunyan and the 13 men were arrested and accused of assaulting police officers. Some eyewitnesses claimed that plainclothes officers and provocateurs were on the scene.
Barricades outside the courthouse separated police officers and court bailiffs from the defendants' relatives, human rights defenders, activists, and other members of the public, some of whom were holding Armenian tricolor flags and signs with inscriptions that read "The freedom of all of us begins with the freedom of political prisoners" and the portraits of Shant Harutyunyan and Karabakh War veteran Volodya Avetisyan (arrested in connection with another case, but who is also viewed as a political prisoner by some).
Human rights activist Avetik Ishkhanyan, in conversation with Hetq, said he has been in front of the courthouse for a long time, but he is not being permitted to get inside.
Bailiffs for 10 minutes didn't permit the Hetq correspondent to pass and attend the trial, explaining that there's no room in the courtroom. Later, 3 journalists were permitted to enter the room, where they took photos and shot video showing that the room was half empty: there were 3–4 rows of empty seats where Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian (pictured) was standing by himself.
Hetq contacted head of the RA Judicial Department's International Cooperation and Public Relations Service Arsen Babayan, who arrived shortly after. Seeing the situation, he remarked that if all the journalists sit (they were standing) there would be no room in the courtroom.
Note, journalists were unable to work in the room because of the large number of bailiffs and police officers.
Judge Mntatsakan Martirosyan declared that a number of the defendants' defenders were absent in court. The reasons they cited included being busy with work, being on vacation, and in one case, the term of the contract between the attorney and his client had expired.
Shant Harutyunyan suggested foregoing attorneys. "This is a political issue; it's not a matter of law — what are attorneys going to do? There is no justice in Armenia. If there was, why was I starting a revolution? I would wait for the 2018 elections," he said.
Reserves Major Armen Hovhannisyan's wife, Shogher Hakobyan, was able to enter the courtroom. She appealed to the court, saying the defendants' relatives and other members of the public are not permitted to approach the building, to enter the room. "It's a public hearing, but people are outside. What's the problem?"
Speaking to Hetq, Hakobyan said the police officers and bailiffs caused her physical and psychological pain by not allowing her to enter the courtroom. "It's degrading, when this is how citizens are treated in their country. With what right?" she said, adding that it's citizens' taxes, after all, that pay their salaries.
Karabakh War veteran Vahe Mkrtchyan's wife, Margarita Stepanyan, in turn, said that Mkrtchyan's 80-year-old aunt remained outside — she too wasn't permitted to enter the courthouse.
In order to procure new lawyers, the hearing was postponed till June 25. After this news, the situation became tense in the courtroom: for a long time, defendants' relatives and other supporters weren't leaving the room.
Public Council member Hayk Harutyunyan's mother, Laura Petrosyan, complained: "Why are you postponing the trial? Have you not kept them in prison for long? Every day is important for them, and you're postponing [the trial] by more than 10 days. You should've organized the matter of the attorneys in advance."
The defendants' supporters then marched to the Pre-Parliament office, chanting, "Armenia without political prisoners!" and "Freedom!"