Court Convicts Pashinyan Critic After His Death…
This week’s commentary is a lesson for all those who naively believe what they hear or read and then pass on unsubstantiated stories to others. By doing so, they are actually helping to spread fake news. When someone gives you a piece of ‘news’, you should always ask, ‘what is your source’? When the answer is: ‘I heard it from someone else,’ immediately dismiss what was said to you. It is critical to verify what you are told in order not to disseminate baseless rumors to others.
Those of us who are in the news business have a bigger responsibility to be vigilant because if we do not double-check what is being reported to us, then we become guilty of spreading fake news to thousands of readers or viewers.
Here is an example of a news item we just heard about. A 57-year-old entertainment producer, Armen Grigoryan, who had died in Armenia, was found guilty by a judge in Armenia last week, a year and five months after his death. Not having heard that a dead man can be tried and convicted, I wondered if such a thing really happened.
Since I have had long years of experience hearing all sorts of baseless reports, I immediately contacted the late defendant’s lawyer in Armenia, Ruben Melikian, who was kind enough to explain the circumstances of this strange story.
Armen Grigoryan, during a street protest against the authorities in Armenia in May 2022, shortly before the parliamentary elections, told a reporter that he stood by his earlier statement of April 2021 that half of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s supporters in certain parts of the country have Turkish blood. Naturally, this was a disparaging remark, but if a country is truly democratic, citizens have the right to use unpleasant, even offensive words. Nevertheless, Grigoryan had not said anything threatening, which would have been against the law.
In May 2022, Grigoryan, a vocal critic of the regime, was arrested and jailed for the statement he had made a year before his arrest. He was charged with “inciting ethnic hostility.” Those accused of such a charge in the past, had made offensive or degrading comments about other ethnic groups living in Armenia. However, no Armenian had been charged before with incitement after making such remarks about fellow Armenians. For example, Pashinyan supporters, who had made insulting comments against Artsakh Armenian refugees, have not been charged with incitement.
On July 15, 2022, two months after his arrest, Grigoryan was brought to court from jail to stand trial. Regrettably, in the midst of the trial, he collapsed and died in the courtroom from a brain aneurism or stroke.
In Armenia, when a defendant dies, his trial is discontinued. However, in this case, according to Armenian law, the defendant’s family has the right to ask that the trial be continued until a verdict is reached. Grigoryan’s lawyer explained that his family wanted to see that he is exonerated, even though, due to the presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty), he was merely charged, but not convicted prior to his death. The family insisted that Grigoryan’s name be cleared since they believe that he should have never been arrested, charged and jailed.
The attorney told me that during the trial, after Gregorian’s death, a government witness testified in court that he had not written the testimony that was submitted in his name to the court. This witness said that a government investigator had written the testimony and had told him to sign it.
Also, a government expert, who testified in court, admitted that Grigoryan’s words could not be considered an incitement to inter-ethnic hostility, which means targeting members of another ethnic group. Grigoryan had only used offensive words about his fellow Armenians, members of his own ethnic group.
Nevertheless, last week, a year and five months after Grigoryan’s death, the judge declared him guilty of the charge filed against him. His lawyer told me that after the verdict is received in writing, the family has one month to file an appeal, which they intend to do. If they lose in the court of appeal, they will then appeal to the Court of Cassation which is a Court that hears appeals against decisions of courts of appeal. If they fail there too, they will then go to the European Court of Human Rights.
Having investigated the circumstances of a court in Armenia holding a trial and finding a dead man guilty, I wanted to know if such trials had also taken place in other countries. Surprisingly, I found several cases in ancient and recent history when other countries held posthumous trials of defendants and found them guilty after their death.