By Hrach Melkumian
Law-enforcement authorities in Armenia are considering launching criminal proceedings in connection with Wednesday’s brief clash between riot police and opposition protesters, officials said on Thursday.
A spokesman for the Armenian Police, Artak Vartazarian, told RFE/RL that his agency will ask state prosecutors to open a criminal case against those involved in the violence that marred President Robert Kocharian’s inauguration ceremony. He would not specify whether the police will be seeking to prosecute opposition leaders who organized the protest.
According to Vartazarian, eight people were detained shortly after thousands of opposition supporters attempted to break through rows of riot police and interior troops that kept them from approaching a government building where Kocharian was being sworn in for a second five-year term. He said six of them were promptly sentenced to up to 15 days in prison, while the two others got off with small fines.
However, opposition sources said that the number of detainees is much higher. “According to our information, at least 16 persons were arrested yesterday,” said a spokeswoman for the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) led by Stepan Demirchian, the defeated presidential candidate.
One of the opposition leaders, Aramazd Zakarian, claimed that shortly after the demonstration a group of police officers burst into his Yerevan apartment, beat his 20-year-old son and took him away without any explanation. They released him several hours later, Zakarian said.
David Mkrtchian, 50, said he was fined 2,000 drams ($3.5) and set free by a court in Yerevan late on Wednesday for “maliciously disobeying” police orders. “I said I don’t have money; if I had I would rather buy food for my kids,” Mkrtchian told RFE/RL. “They said I should be happy to get away with a fine.”
Hundreds of opposition activists have been jailed and fined since the February 19 first round of the presidential election under Armenia’s controversial Code of Administrative Offences. No one has so far faced criminal charges stemming from their participation in the ongoing Demirchian rallies.