Opposition Reports Fresh Arrests

Opposition Reports Fresh Arrests
By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian 02/06/2004 01:19

Radio Free Europe, Czech Rep
June 2 2004

The Armenian opposition reported on Tuesday renewed “administrative”
detentions and imprisonments of its activists ahead of the resumption
of its anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan.

Dustrik Mkhitarian of the Artarutyun alliance told RFE/RL that eight
activists in Yerevan and other parts of the country have been
arrested since Monday for allegedly disrupting public order or
“insulting” police officers.

She said five of them were sentenced to between five and ten days in
prison while the others were fined and set free. She added that
another oppositionist, the leader of an Artarutyun chapter in the
nearby town of Abovian, was detained and being questioned by the
local police as of Tuesday afternoon.

Arrests were also reported by the opposition National Unity Party
(AMK), Artarutyun’s top ally in the two-month campaign for President
Robert Kocharian’s resignation. AMK leader Artashes Geghamian said
two of his activists in the central town of Gavar got five-day and
ten-day jail terms under the Soviet-era Administrative Code after
publicly informing local people about his visit to the area due on

The reported arrests come in advance of yet another unsanctioned
rally which Artarutyun and the AMK plan to hold on Friday following a
two-week pause. Leaders of the two opposition groups pledged on May
21 to stage “permanent” anti-Kocharian rallies from June 4. They also
said they will “rethink” their tactics to pull larger crowds in the

The upcoming rally was formally banned by the Yerevan municipality on
Tuesday in response to a written notification from several opposition
leaders. A written reply signed by an aide to Mayor Yervand Zakharian
pointed to the ongoing criminal investigation into the opposition
drive for regime change. It also cited a clause in the new Armenian
law on rallies which bans public gatherings in cases where they
“jeopardize citizens’ life or health.”

The law was enacted last month over serious objections voiced by
legal experts from the Council of Europe and the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe. They believe that it fails to
meet European standards to which Armenia has committed itself.

The opposition said it will challenge Zakharian’s decision in the
court and will press ahead with the rally regardless of the outcome
of the lawsuit.

More than a hundred people have been subjected to administrative
detentions, mainly in closed trials and without access to lawyers,
over the past two months. Most of them were ordinary participants of
the opposition demonstrations. Hundreds of other opposition
supporters faced similar punishment during and in the wake of last
year’s presidential election.

The authorities’ controversial enforcement of the Administrative Code
has prompted strong protests from prominent international human
rights organizations. In its April 28 resolution on the political
crisis in Armenia, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe (PACE) urged the authorities to “immediately end the
practice.” Human Rights Watch similarly said in a May 4 report that
Yerevan should “cease using arrest as a means of pressuring the

In a related development, the head of the Yerevan office of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reiterated on
Tuesday his calls for the release of more than a dozen opposition
leaders and activists who face criminal charges stemming from the
opposition push for power. “I think that the release of those
individuals would create necessary prerequisites for ending the
political deadlock in which the opposition is refusing to engage in a
constructive dialogue with the government,” Ambassador Vladimir
Pryakhin told RFE/RL.

Pryakhin was particularly concerned about the fate of the most
prominent of the detainees, former Defense Minister Vagharshak
Harutiunian. “Vagharshak Harutiunian could not have done something
for which he could be sentenced to between 10 and 15 years’
imprisonment,” he said.

Harutiunian and another senior member of Artarutyun, Suren
Sureniants, are being prosecuted for allegedly calling for a “violent
overthrow of constitutional order,” a charge they both deny.
Sureniants spent several days on hunger strike in his prison cell
last month to demand the release of all “political prisoners.” His
defense lawyer, Robert Grigorian, told RFE/RL that state prosecutors
have asked a court in Yerevan to prolong his pre-trial detention by
two more months.