Dr. Armen Charchyan, director of the Izmirlian Medical Center

Prominent Armenian Doctor Arrested For ‘Electoral Offence’

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A prominent surgeon running a hospital in Yerevan and supporting an Armenian opposition group was arrested again on Wednesday, June 23, on charges of pressuring his subordinates to participate in the June 20 parliamentary elections.

Professor Armen Charchyan, the director of the Izmirlian Medical Center, was first detained last Friday after a non-governmental organization publicized a leaked audio recording of his meeting with hospital personnel.

Charchyan, who ran for the parliament on the opposition Hayastan bloc’s ticket, can be heard telling them that they must vote in the snap elections. “After the elections I will take voter lists and see who went to the polls and who didn’t,” he warns.

A Yerevan court freed Charchyan from custody on Saturday, June 26, before he was formally charged under a Criminal Code article carrying between four and seven years in prison. The court allowed the Special Investigative Service (SIS) on Wednesday to arrest and hold him in detention pending investigation.

A lawyer for Charchyan, Erik Andreasyan, said he will appeal against the decision. “Mr. Charchyan is subjected to political persecution,” he told reporters.

Hayastan, which is led by former President Robert Kocharyan, has also condemned the criminal proceedings as politically motivated.

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Speaking after a court hearing on Tuesday, Charchyan insisted that he did not coerce the medics to participate in the elections and vote for Hayastan. He also denied threatening to fire them.

Charchyan claimed that he only warned his staffers that they should no longer count on their and their relatives’ preferential medical treatment at the Izmirlian Medical Center if they do not heed his appeal.

Prosecutors maintain, however, that his remarks amounted to election-related pressure and coercion prohibited by Armenian law.

In the leaked audio, Charchyan also stresses the fact that the Armenian Apostolic Church, which owns the hospital, does not want Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to stay in power.

“I’m not telling you to vote for this or that candidate. The position of the Mother See [of the church] is that one must not vote for the current authorities,” he says.

The office of Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the church, deplored Charchyan’s first detention and demanded his release. It did not immediately react to the last court decision.

According Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, law-enforcement authorities have so far brought election-related criminal charges against 16 individuals, among them 7 election candidates.

Virtually all of them are opposition members and supporters accused of trying to buy votes. They are mostly affiliated with the I Have Honor (Pativ Unem) alliance co-headed by former President Serzh Sarkisian and former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsyan.

“If their guilt is proven during the investigations in a credible manner I will accept those results,” Vanetsyan said on Wednesday. “If the opposite is proven I will say this is another case of the authorities persecuting us.”

No government officials and loyalists are known to have been arrested or indicted so far.

The Pativ Unem and Hayastan blocs claim that public sector employees openly supporting them have been harassed and even fired by government officials in the run-up to the elections. They have also accused central and provincial government bodies of forcing their employees to attend the ruling Civil Contract party’s rallies.

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