A court in the Armavir Region has sentenced political leader Lavrenti Kirakosyan to 18 months in prison on drug charges. Human rights activists and political opposition leaders say Kirakosyan, regional head of the National Democratic Union, was framed by police who planted drugs in his home during a search, and that his arrest was for political reasons.
In reaching its decision, the court relied on testimony of five policemen, while disregarding the testimony of two civilian search witnesses whose testimony implied that police placed marijuana in Kirakosyan’s home.
As previously reported in ArmeniaNow, Kirakosyan was arrested April 10, during a political protest. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail for failure to obey a police order. Two hours before he was to be released, police were sent to search his home, on suspicion that he was holding weapons for acquaintances who were suspected of a crime.
lawyer confers with Kirakosyan in court
No weapons were found. A second search was ordered, after which police produced 59 grams of marijuana they said was found atop a water heater in Kirakosyan’s home.
Policeman Mnatsakan Mnatsakanyan testified that he found the marijuana.
“We finished the search. When we were going to leave the building he (deputy head of the police department) told me to check the water heater, because I am tall,” Mnatsakanyan said. “I heard someone had tried, but was too short to reach it.”
(Witnesses of the search say the first policeman who checked the water heater is in fact appreciably taller that Mnatsakanyan.)
Police contradicted their own testimony. For instance, some of them said after searching the water heater for the first time they searched the whole house, roof and yard and in the end again searched the water heater and only after that they found marijuana. Another policeman said they had searched the water heater two times without intervals.
Search witness Misha Shmavonyan said a plastic vase was found in the same location as the drugs and that the vase was covered in dust, while the package holding the marijuana was clean – a suggestion that the drugs had been placed there moments earlier.
(Police dogs were used in the search, but did not detect the drugs.)
A policeman took photographs of the search, but testified that the film has been damaged and no photos are available.
Shmavonyan and another search witness, Gevorg Gevorgyan, say they were forced by police to sign statements verifying the search. Shmavonyan also testified that police had come to his home to try to persuade him to not appear as a witness at the trial.
A urine sample was taken from Kirakosyan during his detention and traces of marijuana was found in his blood. However, prior to the specimen being taken, Kirakosyan had become ill after eating food prepared in the jail and claims that the drug was cooked into the food he was given. A doctor treated Kirakosyan.
The court refused Kirakosyan’s attorney Vardan Zurnachyan’s motion to call the doctor as a witness.
Residents from Kirakosyan’s village of Karakert, filled the court for his trial. Some among the 600 residents wrote letters praising Kriakosyan’s civil service. One said he is a man who others call even for settling marital disputes.
“He always helps people and struggles for justice,” wrote villager Lavrenti Safaryan. “I will tell you a story that happened two days before he was sent to prison. I was in Ikarus (a type of bus). There is a sick woman in the village, she is helpless. She was suffering from complication of her arm. Lavrenti helped her to get into the Ikarus, took her to hospital, made doctors treat her and brought her back. He paid for her bus ticket and told the driver, ‘next time don’t take money from this woman’.”
court was filled with supporters from Karakert
For his part, Kirakosyan stated he has been subjected to political persecutions for several years. In 1996 he was sentenced to six months of imprisonment on charges, he claims, that were also fabricated, and again following his protest of presidential elections.
Kirakosyan testified that during detention Deputy Head of Police of Armavir, Edik Mkrtchyan, told him that if he would promise to stop his political activities, he would be released.
Kirakosyan said the head of the police department was asking him questions about his political party activities and specifically wanted to know the plans of opposition leaders Aram Sargsyan and Stepan Demirchyan. Kirakosyan says he told police: “I am not a spy”.
Prior to the trial’s conclusion, leader of the National Democratic Union Vazgen Manukyan held a press conference and stated that Kirakosyan is a political prisoner and holding him violates Council of Europe mandates regarding human rights.
“This is political matter,” Manukyan said. “They can fabricate a drug or a murder case, however, the essence remains the same. If this case and Edgar Arakelyan’s case (a demonstrator also convicted to 18 months for hooliganism) are stomached, then in the future any political cases will be turned into criminal ones.”
On the evening before the final court session Head of Police Department of Baghramyan Region (where Kirakosyan had been held) Spartak Nahapetyan died in a car accident.
Before making his final statement Kirakosyan asked participants of the trial and those present in the courtroom to rise and have a minute of silence in memory of the Head of Police Department.
Then Kirakosyan said his case is an ordered hearing and real criminals are policemen who had fabricated the charges.
“This trial is an exceptional demonstration of dictatorship,” Kirakosyan told the court. “However, it is well known that sooner or later all dictatorships collapse.”