Human Rights Lawyer Arrested After Challenging Government
A human rights lawyer who has helped Yerevan residents facing eviction from their homes to sue the Armenian government has been arrested on fraud charges which he believes were fabricated in response to his activities, it emerged on Wednesday.
Close associates and clients of Vahe Grigorian, head of a Yerevan-based law firm called Right, said he was detained by officers of Armenia's National Security Service (NSS) and promptly remanded in pre-trial custody by a court on Tuesday.
The NSS opened a criminal case against Grigorian last May shortly after raiding Right's offices and confiscating some of its documents. The Armenian successor to the Soviet-era KGB alleges that the lawyer cheated a client, a charge he strongly denies.
Speaking at a news conference in June, Grigorian claimed that the criminal proceedings were brought in retaliation for his legal assistance to residents of old neighborhoods in central Yerevan that are subject to demolition as part of its massive government-sanctioned redevelopment. Many of those residents complain that financial compensation offered to them by the state is extremely low because of high-level government corruption.
Some of them have taken legal action against the Yerevan municipality, but virtually all of those lawsuits were deemed unsubstantiated by local courts. Grigorian and his firm have helped several such families take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. in Strasbourg.
Minas Safian is a member of one of those families. He and other remaining residents of Buzand Street in downtown Yerevan expressed their solidarity with the arrested lawyer at an improvised open-air news conference. `With Vahe's arrest we lost our only source of hope,' Safian told RFE/RL.
`He is one of the few lawyers who has protected our interests,' said another resident.
According to Artur Grigorian, one of Vahe Grigorian's defense counsels, the NSS, which is supposed to investigate only grave crimes, has failed to substantiate its charges. But the feared security agency has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The Yerevan municipality, for its part, insists that the Buzand Street protesters represents only a small minority of hundreds of dislocated families which it says have been properly compensated. However, the integrity of the process has been seriously questioned by Armenia's state human rights defender, Larisa Alaverdian. Incidentally, Alaverdian earlier condemned the NSS actions against Right. Her office has closely cooperated with the law firm.
(Photolur photo: A barricade built by Buzand Street residents in a deseperate attempt to stop the ongoing house demolitions.)
"VAHE GRIGORYAN IS POLITICAL PRISONER"
A1+ | 20:35:10 | 31-10-2005 | Politics |
The trial of the head of the "Right Legislative Group" LTD Vahe Grigoryan started on October 25 and lasted three days. The Criminal and Military Court of Appeal did not change the precautionary measure against him. Today his advocates rendered a press conference. They were very careful in giving information in order not to impede the process of the preliminary investigation.
Let us remind you that Vahe Grigoryan is charged with fraud and forgery of documents. Imprisonment was chosen as a precautionary measure against him.
He was the advocate of four families living in Buzand street.
Today the advocates also represented the announcement of Alexander Hakobyan, the "victim" of Vahe Grigoryan, and copies of documents from the State of California, in which Alexander Hakobyan considers Vahe Grigoryan an honest and trustful man and finds that the charge is false. "When we represented this to the Judge, he said the documents are false. If the documents are false, the RA Prosecutor's office must bring a charge against the Governor of California", says Tigran Atanesyan, advocate of Vahe Grigoryan.
By the way, during the press conference the letter of the witness to the RA Prosecutor, the Ombudsman and the US Ambassador to Armenia was represented.
The witness confessed that he gave the evidence under the threats to his relatives and being dictated by Inspector Nikoghosyan.
The advocates of Vahe Grigoryan said they will fight till the end; and they consider Vahe Grigoryan a political prisoner.
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