Arrested Oppositionist Begins Hunger Strike

Arrested Oppositionist Begins Hunger Strike
By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian 21/05/2004 12:37

Radio Free Europe, Czech Rep.
May 21 2004

Suren Sureniants, one of the opposition activists arrested last month,
has gone on hunger strike to protest his continuing imprisonment
and demand the release of all “political prisoners” in Armenia,
his lawyer said on Thursday.

The attorney, Robert Grigorian, told RFE/RL that his client is refusing
food in protest against the refusal of the Armenian Court of Appeals
to grant him bail pending the ongoing criminal investigation into the
opposition campaign against President Robert Kocharian. Sureniants and
several other senior members of the opposition Artarutyun alliance,
among them former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, have been
held in custody for more than a month, accused of publicly advocating
a “violent overthrow of constitutional order” and “insulting” senior
government officials. They strongly deny the charges.

The Artarutyun activists top the list of 14 opposition detainees
who have been declared political prisoners by several local
non-governmental organizations. Three of those detainees have already
been sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “hooliganism”
stemming from their violent clash with Kocharian supporters and
plainclothes police that tried to disrupt an opposition rally in
Gyumri in late March.

Armenia’s presidentially appointed human rights ombudsman, Larisa
Alaverdian, on Thursday admitted that the case against Sureniants
and the other oppositionists is politically motivated. “These cases
contain a political component,” she told RFE/RL, specifically deploring
the pre-trial arrests.

Alaverdian also urged Sureniants to end the hunger strike. “The
situation is not yet such that he has to resort to such actions,”
she said.

Meanwhile, Artarutyun and its opposition ally, the National Unity Party
(AMK), said 28 of their activists around the country were rounded up
and questioned by the police on Thursday ahead of Friday’s opposition
rally in Yerevan which could end in another march towards Kocharian’s
residence. Opposition sources said some of them were sentenced to
ten days’ imprisonment under the Soviet-era Code of Administrative

A spokesman for the national police in Yerevan refused to refute or
confirm the information.