Armen Grigoryan

Armenian Government Critic Dies During Trial


By Artak Khulian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) —  A vocal critic of Armenia’s government arrested two months ago died during his trial in Yerevan on Friday, July 15, sparking outcry from the country’s human rights ombudswoman and opposition leaders.

Armen Grigoryan, a well-known entertainment producer, collapsed in the courtroom as his lawyer petitioned the presiding judge to release him from custody. Grigoryan, 56, was pronounced dead by an ambulance crew that arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later.

“They took resuscitation measures but to no avail,” Taguhi Stepanyan, the head of the national ambulance service, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Stepanyan said a forensic examination will ascertain the cause of Grigoryan’s sudden death.

Grigoryan, who for years harshly criticized Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, was arrested and indicted on May 18 in connection with a 2021 video in which he made disparaging comments about residents of two Armenian regions sympathetic to the government. The National Security Service accused him of offending their “national dignity.”

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Grigoryan as well as opposition figures and other government critics rejected the accusations as politically motivated. They said the fact that he is held in detention pending investigation only proves that he is a political prisoner.

Human rights activists also criticized the criminal proceedings. Some of them linked the case to daily anti-government protests launched by the Armenian opposition on May 1.

The state human rights defender, Kristine Grigoryan (no relation to Armen), expressed outrage at the anti-government activist’s death, saying that he clearly did not receive adequate medical care in prison. She said she has demanded “clarifications” from prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice, which runs Armenia’s prisons.

“I will work to bring the culprits to justice,” the ombudswoman wrote on Facebook.

Neither the ministry nor the law-enforcement authorities issued any statements on Armen Grigoryan’s death as of Friday evening.

Grigoryan’s lawyer, Ruben Melikyan, said that his client, who was a medic by training, suffered from serious “health problems.”

“He never let us speak up about those problems in the court and other bodies,” Melikyan said, speaking at an opposition rally in Yerevan held in the evening.

Organizers and participants of the rally observed a minute of silence in memory of Grigoryan. Some of them also held his pictures.

Opposition leaders addressing the crowd blamed the authorities and Pashinyan in particular for the outspoken public figure’s death.

“Armen Grigoryan died at the hands of these authorities with the direct participation of the investigator, the judge and the prosecutor acting on their orders,” one of them, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, charged.

The demonstrators chanted “Nikol murderer!” as they marched to the prime minister’s office and a Yerevan court that sanctioned Grigoryan’s arrest in May. Many of them lit candles and laid flowers outside the court building.

Over the past year, the opposition has regularly accused Pashinyan’s administration of weaponizing pre-trial arrests to try to neutralize its members and supporters fighting for regime change.

More than two dozen such individuals are currently under arrest on charges stemming from the ongoing anti-government protests. Most of them are accused of assaulting riot police. The authorities maintain that the accusations are not politically motivated.

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