By Karine Kalantarian and Hrach Melkumian
State prosecutors in Yerevan warned opposition leaders on Monday against holding more anti-government rallies without an official permission from the city authorities. The warning followed fresh arrests of opposition activists reported over the weekend.
Several senior members of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) led by Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL that they were invited to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Armenian capital and were warned of legal consequences of more unsanctioned protests against the official results of the controversial presidential election.
One of them, parliament deputy Aramayis Barseghian, said they refused to sign a written statement certifying that the oppositionists are aware of the warning. He said the prosecutors did not specify what actions they could take against organizers of the rallies.
So far the law-enforcement authorities have cracked down only on their ordinary participants. According to the Armenian Justice Ministry, 132 opposition supporters were detained from March 17 to 25 for “disrupting public order,” “disobeying police” and other alleged offences. A ministry spokesman said 69 of them were sentenced to up to 15 days in prison, while the others were fined and set free.
The arrests appear to have continued at least until last Friday when the Demirchian-led opposition held its last protest. Opposition activists at the Artarutyun bloc’s headquarters claimed at the weekend that people were held by police even during the rally. Artashes Alaverdian of the National Democratic Party (AZhK), said two of his comrades were among them.
Another man, Karen Harutiunian, visited the Artarutyun office Saturday to inquire about the whereabouts of his detained friend. He said police told him the previous night that the latter will be punished for taking part in the rally. “I wondered if he insulted him or did something else,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “They said no.”
Also detained late Friday, according to the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, was an aide to Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. The paper said the police told the Foreign Ministry the next day that the official, Garegin Shaljian, “disrupted traffic” in the city center during the unsanctioned demonstration. He was released from custody shortly afterwards.
The opposition rallies held so far have been remarkably peaceful and the authorities have not offered any proof of their charges. The detainees’ trials have taken place behind the closed doors in what local and international human rights groups see as a gross violation of the due process of law.
Opposition leaders argue that Armenia has no legislation regulating peaceful gatherings except a constitutional clause guaranteeing citizens’ freedom of assembly. They say the government orders restricting that right are therefore unconstitutional.