One of Armenia’s main opposition parties said Tuesday that scores of its activists around the country were rounded up and questioned by police early in the morning in what its leaders described as a renewed campaign of government “repressions.”
At least three members of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party led by former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian were reportedly arrested in Yerevan on suspicion of illegal arms possession. Sarkisian and his associates claimed that the apparent crackdown is aimed at derailing opposition plans to launch campaign of mass protests against President Robert Kocharian this spring.
“From now on the Hanrapetutyun party will act in a much more active and speedier manner,” Sarkisian told reporters. “We are taking up the gauntlet.”
An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed a search in the apartment of one of the arrested opposition activists, Armen Rubinian, conducted by police officers wearing civilian clothes. The officers refused to comment.
Rubinian’s mother said afterwards that they were looking for weapons. “They didn’t find anything,” she said.
A similar story was told by Romik Mkhitarian, the head of the Hanrapetutyun chapter in Yerevan’s Shengavit district. Mkhitarian said police knocked on his door in the early hours of
Tuesday, but he refused to open it after demanding an explanation. He said they then broke into his car garage to conduct a search there.
A spokesman for the national Police Service, Sayad Shirinian, confirmed that the authorities are taking “measures to find weapons and ammunition” and said they have already found “large quantities” of them. But he declined to provide any further information or comment on the opposition charges.
Hanrapetutyun leaders, meanwhile, accused the authorities of trying to intimidate and discourage their most loyal supporters from attending the promised anti-Kocharian protests. Hanrapetutyun is seen as the most radical force inside the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Kocharian’s 2003 reelection and has vowed to achieve his ouster.
“The authorities are worried that we will soon get the people to the streets and topple them,” the party’s chairman, Albert Bazeyan, said. He alleged that that law-enforcement officials are trying to hold local Hanrapetutyun leaders in check by threatening to bring criminal charges against them.
Bazeyan also drew parallels with the infamous arrests of hundreds of opposition supporters during and in the aftermath of last year’s disputed presidential ballot. More than 270 of them were jailed for up to 15 days for attending unsanctioned opposition demonstrations in Yerevan. The massive crackdown was denounced by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.