Armen Tavadyan, an associate of ex-President Robert Kocharyan, and owner of the pro-Kocharyan TV 5 television channel has been arrested. He has been charged with bribing witnesses to give false testimony in Kocharyan’s ongoing trial.
Tavadyan’s 24 December arrest is connected to a larger case. Police have alleged that Kocharyan supporters have been systematically attempting to influence witness and victim testimonies in Kocharyan’s favour.
The former Armenian president is on trial for his alleged role in the violent post-election crackdown on protesters on 1 March 2008 that left 10 people dead.
Varujhan Mkrtchyan, a self-proclaimed ‘Kocharyan supporter’ was arrested on the same charges, and as part of the same case, as Tavadyan on 21 December. Mkrtchyan was arrested two days after the Armenian police released a video in which an unidentified individual, later identified as Mkrtchyan, is seen talking to one of the witnesses in the 1 March case.
Tavadyan’s lawyer, Hovhannes Khudoyan, said that they still don’t know exactly why Tavadyan has been arrested.
‘The arrest report includes activities that Tavadyan was in no way involved in, however, in the end they were still attributed to him’, Khudoyan said. ‘There is no logical explanation as to what he has done — and that is illegal.’
Khudoyan said that Armenian authorities are trying to silence Tavadyan because he is the owner of a media outlet and because he is a supporter of Robert Kocharyan.
In an interview with 168.am, TV 5 director, Harutyun Harutyunyan, said that after viewing the video released by the police, he was anticipating something similar to happen.
‘I knew that they were going to blame Tavadyan because he has mentioned many times that he is Kocharyan’s friend and was actively trying to get his friend released from jail’, Harutyunyan said.
He also considered the arrest an attack on TV 5.
‘They [the government] consider TV 5 their enemy and are trying to pressure us’, Harutyunyan said.
In the video released by police, Mkrtchyan is seen talking to the witness in his office and promising him financial compensation and high-level positions after ‘the ruling regime changes’ in return for refusing to testify.
If charged, both individuals face from three to seven years in prison.
In an interview with Azatutyun, Viktor Soghomonyan, Robert Kocharyan’s chief of staff, said that the video was staged.
‘That video looked like a bad play’, Soghomonyan said. ‘There are so many questions regarding this poorly prepared video, as well as why it was released hours before Kocharyan’s appeal hearing.’
On 19 December, the court rejected Robert Kocharyan’s appeal for release on bail. Soghomonyan claimed that the video was released in order to try to influence the court’s decision.
Varujhan Mkrtchyan has admitted that he was indeed the person in the video.
Mkrtchyan told Azatutyun that he met with the witness to make sure he repeated his testimony accurately and did not alter it or perjure themselves in anyway.
‘The video was not released fully’, Mkrtchyan said, further claiming that the witness approached him because he said he was being harassed by the police.
On 25 December, Qaryak Media, an umbrella company which includes the TV channel Armnews, the online newspaper Tert.am, and the Armnews FM radio station, published a statement condemning Tavadyan’s arrest.
‘The public position of the owner of an independent media outlet in a failed democracy, may turn them into targets by the ruling regime as a way to influence a media outlet through legal means,’ the announcement reads. ‘What has taken place with Tavadyan hints at the latter.’