Defending Chakhalyan: Tbilisi accused of “dragging out” appeal hearing in high-profile “Armenian activist” case

Defending Chakhalyan: Tbilisi accused of “dragging out” appeal hearing in high-profile “Armenian activist” case

Chakhalyan’s father Ruben Chakhalyan (left) and Prosecutor Irakly Bardzimadze.

Voskanyan insisted that the charges were fabricated.
The family and supporters of an Armenian activist in Georgia sentenced to a lengthy jail term earlier this year have accused the Georgian court and prosecutors of effectively “dragging out” the appeal hearing and called for more attention to the case from Armenia and the local sizable Armenian community.

Vahagn Chakhalyan, the leader of the United Javakhk Democratic Alliance, was arrested along with his father and underage brother in July 2008 following a car bomb blast near the home of the chief of police in Akhalkalak, the provincial center of the mostly Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe-Javakheti in southern Georgia.

In April, the Georgian court found Chakhalyan guilty of several crimes under the Criminal Code of Georgia, including “acquisition and possession of firearms and ammunition”, “organizing a group action which grossly disrupted public order”, and “hooliganism committed against a government representative”, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Chakhalyan has all along protested his innocence and claimed to have been targeted for his political activities and advocacy of Armenian minority rights in Georgia. His lawyers appealed the verdict and the hearing of the appeal began in July this year.

On Friday, Chakhalyan’s defense lawyer asked the appeals court to postpone the hearing of his client’s appeal to allow experts to conduct a crucial case examination in relation to weapons. This examination, the defense counsel argued, should have been completed within the period between the first hearing that took place on July 27 and the next one scheduled for September 18, during which its results were to have been presented, while materials for other two examinations were provided only in September, which left little time for the review to be made.

The explanation to this omission given in court was that they “had failed to find people to transport the weapon.” Prosecutor Irakly Bardzimadze, however, promised to “solve this issue within five days.”

“We do not believe in any change. As always, everything is being dragged out and the scenario has already been written. The end will be at the European court,” Chakhalyan’s mother Gayane told ArmeniaNow’s reporter in Tbilisi. (Chakhalyan’s father and brother were fined by the court about $4,250 and released.)

Lawyer Stepan Voskanyan insisted that the charges on which his client was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail were fabricated.

According to him, during the search in Chakhalyan’s house following the car bomb explosion “task force” police officers themselves planted arms. He also rejected the other charges as fabricated and claimed that the Georgian authorities decided to hear the case in capital Tbilisi “in order to keep tension.”

“It is impossible to call these actions of the Georgian authorities other than political persecution. And this persecution that began still in 2000 with attempted murders against his [Chakhalyan’s] family members, has now reached its climax,” Voskanyan asserted.

In contrast to Yerevan, where several protests were staged by Javakhk activists and supporters in front of the Georgian embassy against what they view as controversial justice in Tbilisi, no protests could be seen either inside or outside the court in the Georgian capital.

Special Advisor to the Chamber of Advocates of the Republic of Armenia in Charge of European Affairs since 2005 Raffi-Philippe Kalfayan, who intends to lobby the Chakhalyan case internationally, through Diaspora communities, is surprised that “Armenia and the Georgian-Armenian community are silent.”

“I am also surprised at how the court treats this trial that proceeds with numerous violations,” says the French-Armenian lawyer. “Why should everyone be talking in Georgian for a long time without interpretation when they know that the Chakhalyans do not understand this language?”

The hearing of the Chakhalyans appeal in Tbilisi proceeds against the backdrop of growing tension on the Armenian-Georgian border where several villages have become subject to dispute as a result of the continuing border demarcation process. Armenia immediately bordering on Georgia’s mostly Armenian-populated region of Javakhk has long sought better socioeconomic conditions to be provided for the Armenian minority in Georgia by the central authorities but has emphatically refused to back any separatist sentiments among either local or Armenia-based compatriotic groups. Armenians in Javakhk, meanwhile, have accused Tbilisi of deliberately trying to change the area’s ethnic composition and demanded greater autonomy.

The Chakhalyan case has been widely viewed by advocacy groups in Armenia and Javakhk as a litmus paper for Tbilisi’s alleged attempts to stifle dissent in the restive region.

According to Chakhalyan’s lawyer Voskanyan, if authorities in Tbilisi ever decide to release his client, they will demand that he stop his political activities.

The next hearing in Chakhalyan’s appeal case is scheduled for October 23.

And meanwhile, in Armenia this issue is continuously raised by ‘Yerkir’ (Country) Union of Non-governmental Organizations for Repatriation and Settlement.