An opposition figure accused of trying to pay students to take part in anti-government protests has been released on bail after spending two-and-a-half months in pre-trial detention.
Avetik Chalabyan was detained in mid-May after footage emerged in which he appeared to offer small bribes to students from the Agrarian University of Armenia to take part in protests. The protests were organised by the parliamentary opposition between May and June calling for the government’s resignation.
According to the investigation, Chalabyan met with the head of the university’s student council, whom he urged to mobilise 2,000 students for the protests, offering ֏2 million ($4,900) in total, for a share of ֏1,000 ($2.50) per student.
Opposition groups have referred to Chalabyan as a ‘political prisoner’ and have demanded his release, a sentiment echoed by the Armenian Apostolic Church and the President of Nagorno-Karabakh Arayik Harutyunyan, who asked the government to take his ‘service to the country’ into account.
Chalabyan is the founder of the Arar and Repat Armenia foundations — which support border villages and Armenians from the diaspora wishing to repatriate.
Taguhi Tovmasyan, a member of the I Have Honour opposition bloc, called Chalabyan’s detention a ‘clear manifestation of political revenge’, while Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Kristine Grigoryan demanded an explanation from the Prosecutor’s Office for his arrest.
After Chalabyan missed several hearings due to health issues, his lawyers accused the courts of acting like the government’s ‘executioners’.
Following his release from the Armavir penitentiary, Chalabyan thanked all ‘like-minded people’.
‘I consider my small sacrifice as only a little crumb on the altar of my homeland’, he said.
Chalabyan’s trial continues.