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Iranian Tried For Espionage Collapses In Armenian Court

YEREVAN -- An Iranian citizen being tried in Armenia on charges of spying for Azerbaijan collapsed in court in Yerevan on August 19 while delivering his defense speech, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Behnam Bagheri's Armenian defense attorney, Inesa Petrossian, told RFE/RL that during the closed-door hearing her client grew very nervous after the prosecution attempted to interfere with his testimony. She said he eventually fainted "with symptoms of a heart attack."

"He had prepared a speech in Persian," she said. "When he began to read it out, the prosecutor unreasonably began to meddle in that process, and Bagheri lost himself. He tore the sheets of paper with his speech into pieces and tried to leave in protest. When he was turned away he was in a very difficult condition, about to lose consciousness."

Petrossian said Bagheri was taken to a hospital in Yerevan and remained unconscious as of the evening of August 19. She said his family in Iran has been notified and is coming to Yerevan.

Bagheri, 30, was arrested by Armenia's National Security Service (NSS) late last year on charges of spying for Azerbaijan.

The prosecutor is demanding an 11-year prison sentence for Bagheri.

Armenian officials say that in September 2009 Bagheri received a video from retired Armenian Lieutenant Colonel Gevorg Hayrapetian that contained "anti Armenian propaganda that could be used to discredit Armenia's international prestige."

The disc was found when Bagheri was crossing the Armenian border into Iran.

Hayrapetian, who fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, is charged with high treason and faces up to 13 years in prison. Both Bagheri and Hayrapetian deny the charges.