YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The lawyer for a veteran politician accused of involved in an alleged plot to overthrow Armenia’s government said on Monday, November 21, that his client is in increasingly poor health and needs to be hospitalized.
Vahan Shirkhanian was arrested last December on suspicion of being part of a clandestine organization which the National Security Service (NSS) says plotted to seize power. He is among 20 individuals, including the group’s obscure leader Artur Vartanian, who will go on trial soon on corresponding charges.
Shirkhanian, who had held senior positions in Armenia’s government in the 1990s, strongly denies the coup charges. According to his lawyer, Hayk Alumian, the 69-year-old’s health condition has sharply deteriorated during his almost yearlong imprisonment.
“He was a healthy man when he was arrested. Now he is disabled, he can’t move on his own,” Alumian told a news conference.
Alumian condemned law-enforcement authorities for refusing to transfer Shirkhanian from a Yerevan prison to a hospital. The lawyer accused them of “slowly killing” Shirkhanian, saying that he has petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to recognize his client’s treatment as torture.
An Armenian Justice Ministry department managing the country’s prison system dismissed the allegations, saying that doctors examined Shirkhanian late last week and concluded that he does not require hospitalization. The department told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the suspect will undergo two more medical examinations in the coming days.
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, said through a spokesman later in the day that he is closely monitoring the medical check-ups and will issue an “appropriate evaluation” after they are complete.
Alumian insisted that Shirkhanian’s treatment with medication has already proved highly ineffective.
Shirkhanian was taken into custody one month after more than a dozen individuals apparently led by Vartanian were detained in a dawn raid on their hideout in Yerevan jointly conducted by the NSS and the Armenian police. The law-enforcement bodies found large quantities of weapons and explosives stashed there.
The NSS claimed afterwards that Vartanian and his associates planned to seize the presidential administration, government, parliament, Constitutional Court and state television buildings in Yerevan. It said the core members of the group called Hayots Vahan Gund (Armenian Shield Regiment) underwent secret military training in August-September 2015.
Vartanian’s lawyer, Levon Baghdasarian, strongly denied those claims, saying that his client never intended to seize government buildings and remove the president from power. But he did not deny that Vartanian set up the shadowy group and acquired firearms and explosives for it.