The illegalities recorded during the preliminary investigation in the case of the political prisoner Avetik Chalabyan

Avetik Chalabyan is an honourable Armenian, a father of four children, a loving husband, a devoted son, and a respected professional. He directs and participates in educational, social and defence projects important for the development of Armenia. Avetik has never been involved in any illegal process, has never been petty and fearful. Avetik Chalabyan՛'s "crime” is that he factually and rightfully criticized the actions of the RA authorities with facts and justifications. Avetik is a political prisoner because the fabricated case was chosen as an agenda to silence him and intimidate the opposition. Today, freedom of expression is seriously endangered in Armenia, and any proud Armenian could have been in Avetik's place. 

Avetik Chalabyan's defence team, at the end of the preliminary investigation, presents a brief list of illegalities, which can become a precedent in international legal instances due to the absurd level of violations and their logic.

Background

On May 13, 2022, Avetik Mkrtich Chalabyan was accused under Article 163, Part 3, Clause 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia. According to the May 14th decision of the Yerevan City General Jurisdiction Court Judge Arusyak Aleksanyan, the two-month detention was chosen as a preventive measure against Avetik Chalabyan.

Avetik Chalabyan has filed charges for committing the act provided in Article 163, Part 3, Clause 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia. The essence of the act, which is attributed to Chalabyan without any proof, is as follows: the material interest of two or more persons for the purpose of participating to assemblies.

First, it is worth noting that the aforementioned element of a crime has been introduced to the criminal legislation of the Republic of Armenia since May 7, 2021. Before then, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia did not include such kind of element of a crime. Per the urgent report "Monitoring of Freedom of Peaceful Assemblies (April-May 2022)" recently published by the "Helsinki Committee of Armenia" human rights NGO, the English version of the legal provision under discussion, presented to the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR, is using legislative wording significantly different from that of the Armenian version.
Thereby: “2․Compelling to participate in assemblies or compelling to refuse to participate in assemblies or motivating materially to make a person participate in assemblies or refuse to participate in assemblies – shall be punished by a fine in the amount of four-hundred-fold to six-hundred-fold of the minimum salary or by imprisonment for a term of six months to one year”.

It has been highlighted by us the formulation «to make a person participate», which means to force, to compel. That is, in any case, coercion, as a manifestation of the objective aspect of the crime, is mandatory to qualify the act as a crime. In other words, without an element of coercion, there can be no question of the limitation of the right being appropriate, necessary and proportional. We believe that the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR with this mindset have concluded in their joint urgent opinion that “punishments designed to prevent assemblies and to compel participation or refusal to assemble appear to be consistent with the guiding principles of freedom of peaceful assembly”։

By the way, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia, which came into force on July 1 of the current year, did not include the element of a crime under consideration. However, on June 9, before the new Criminal Code would enter into force, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, with the vote of the monomajority "Civil Contract" faction secretly included again the discussed element of a crime in the new legislation, without any public discussion, especially for Avetik Chalabyan.

The groundlessness of the accusation

Putting aside the vagueness and unconstitutionality of the crime based on the accusation, we should note that the basis of the accusation against Avetik Chalabyan consists of only one edited audio recording considered inadmissible per the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Armenia, in which Avetik Chalabyan does not make any claim regarding offering material interest for participation in the assemblies․ On the contrary, in response to the questions of the interlocutor Tornik Aliyan having carried out an obvious provocation, answers that “there are intangibles in life that are more important”․ There is no testimony in the case that can even indirectly justify the act with the aforementioned element of a crime committed by Avetik Chalabyan, that is, to provide a material interest in order to participate in the assemblies. Even Tornik Aliyan during the face-to-face interrogation claimed that Avetik Chalabyan never offered him money or other material benefits for participating in the gatherings. 

Detention as punishment

The aforementioned element of a crime (against two or more persons) was only intended to make the arrest possible. Thus, in accordance with part 2 of Article 135 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia valid until July 1 of the current year, detention of a person as a measure of restraint can be applied only in the case of such a crime for which the maximum term of punishment in the form of imprisonment is more than one year. Not a single piece of evidence was obtained in the criminal case substantiating the alleged act, that is, the material interest was provided to two or more persons. There is no testimony, including that of Tornik Aliyan, which mentions the name of a third party who received material interest. Moreover, the investigator did not even make an effort to find a third party to whom a material interest was provided or offered.

Under such circumstances, it is obvious that this criminal case was initiated according to Article 163, Part 3, Clause 2, exclusively to overcome the “maximum term” censor, because in this case, the maximum punishment, as compared to the second part of Article 163, exceeds one year. 

Even in this situation, when it comes to a non-serious crime, in Armenian judicial practice, as a rule, detention is not used as a preventive measure, moreover, the body conducting the preliminary investigation does not petition the court to apply such a preventive measure.

The arrest and the ruling decision of the court of appeal judge, Armen Danielyan (known as a judge who often presides over politically sensitive cases and never makes a decision against the will of the prosecution) were not fully reasoned and substantiated.

Extension of the detention period

Judge Arusyak Aleksanyan (also known for never giving a verdict against the will of the prosecution in politically sensitive cases) with her July 10, 2022 decision, extended the detention period of Avetik Chalabyan by another 15 days, based on charges of "obstructing the preliminary investigation", when the investigator having brought the petition for the extension of the detention, stated that the preliminary investigation was actually completed, and it was only necessary to send the indictment for approval of the prosecutor. No other grounds were mentioned in the decision.

The Avetik Chalabyan’s case was sent to trial, and under circumstances that are not clear to us was assigned to Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan, who is also known to have never given a conflicting verdict against the will of the prosecution in politically sensitive cases (the investigation of the case of "7" and the publication of obviously fabricated verdicts concerning the events of March 1, 2008. After that, he also investigated the case of Nikol Pashinyan and ANC activists, issuing guilty verdicts in all cases; he is now examining the case of Aghvan Hovsepyan, aside from the case of producer Armen Grigoryan, who died during the court session, which was also assigned to him).

Summary

Summarizing all the above-mentioned, we believe that the criminal prosecution against Avetik Chalabyan has a very distinct political tone, which, combined with other circumstances, allows us to consider Avetik Chalabyan's arrest within the framework of PACE Resolution No. 1900 of 2012 and to insist that Avetik Chalabyan is a political prisoner.

First, as we mentioned, there is reasonable doubt that Avetik Chalabyan committed the crime he is accused of. Until now, there is no direct and clear proof that Avetik Chalabyan has committed the act, even the irreceivable audio recording, included in the case, proves the opposite.

Secondly, the criminal prosecution against Avetik Chalabyan and the detention within its framework are discriminatory by nature. During the extraordinary parliamentary elections of June 20, 2021, the press rang out loud many alarms about the ruling political team filling its election rallies with the use of administrative resources, which means that there is at the very least a need to verify the facts of coercing people to participate in assemblies through criminal procedures, and which, of course, was not implemented by the relevant Armenian authorities. This is a manifestation of an obvious discriminatory attitude towards Chalabyan within the framework of the discussed elements of a crime. Avetik Chalabyan is the only person accused of this act and who was arrested.

Thirdly, Avetik Chalabyan's deprivation of liberty was accompanied by gross violations of criminal justice procedures: 

 

 

Fourth, the political motivations, which are very distinct. Avetik Chalabyan is a well-known public and political figure, who has gotten a clear oppositional attitude and enjoys a high reputation among people, due to his past path and the fact that he has never been defamed, has never held political positions, has never been part of any authority. This is why this trumped-up criminal case became part of the state, and state-controlled propaganda; even a report was prepared and shown on Armenian public television. In other words, the authorities are using this criminal case exclusively for purposes of propaganda and for silencing Mr. Chalabyan.

Defenders of Avetik Chalabyan:
Varazdat Haroutyunyan
Arthur Haroutyunyan
Armen Andrikyan

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