On April 1, prosecutors at the ongoing trial in Yerevan of seven prominent Armenian oppositionists dropped charges of seeking to overthrow the government by force. The parallel charges of "inciting mass disturbances" -- meaning the violent clashes in Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008, between police and security personnel and supporters of defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian that resulted in 10 deaths -- remain in force, however.
But presiding judge Mnatsakan Martirosian ruled that the seven men will now be tried separately on those charges, not as a group. In line with legislative amendments enacted on March 18, the charge of inciting mass disturbances is punishable by a prison sentence of between four and 10 years. Two of the accused face additional charges of resisting the police and illegal possession of weapons, respectively.
The seven men include former parliament deputies Miasnik Malkhasian, Hakob Hakobian, and Sasun Mikaelian, and former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian. They all supported Ter-Petrossian's candidacy in the February 19 Armenian presidential ballot. They also played an active role in the protests that began immediately after the Central Election Commission promulgated preliminary results giving then-Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian over 50 percent of the vote, compared to 21.5 for Ter-Petrossian.
All seven have repeatedly denied the coup allegations, as has Ter-Petrossian.
Levon Zurabian, a leading member of the Armenian National Congress formed last summer to back Ter-Petrossian, told RFE/RL on April 2 that the prosecutors' decision effectively demolished the official version of the March 1-2, 2008, violence.
"Even these criminal and fraudulent authorities and the judicial system finally admitted yesterday that the opposition had not planned a coup d'etat or an overthrow of the constitutional order and did not attempt to usurp power," he said.
Consequently, Zurabian continued, "it is evident that [the use of force by police] had no justification, and the authorities simply attacked peaceful demonstrators."
The defense lawyers in the trial have criticized as illegal Martirosian's ruling that the accused will be tried separately and said they will probably appeal.
Meanwhile, one of the seven accused, Shant Harutiunian, is being held incommunicado at a psychiatric clinic in Yerevan. He was taken there several weeks ago after his health deteriorated, the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak" reported on March 31, quoting Harutiunian's wife, Ruzanna Badalian.
-- Karine Kalantarian and Liz Fuller