By Karine Kalantarian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
Armenia’s two main opposition groups reported on Wednesday fresh detentions of dozens of their activists following their latest joint rally held in Yerevan on Tuesday.
The Artarutyun alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK) said about 35 people were forcibly taken to police stations early in the morning or the previous night for attending the unsanctioned anti-government demonstration. They said most of them were released later in the day.
Dustrik Mkhitarian, a senior Artarutyun member, told RFE/RL that 18 opposition activists, including the local leader of the Hanrapetutyun party, Sasha Sayadian, were held in the central town of Charentsavan. Sayadian said that police interrogators told them to sign a written pledge not to attend more opposition rallies but that they refused to do so. An officer at the local police denied the claims.
According to Mkhitarian, four other Hanrapetutyun activists were summoned to the police station in the town of Ashtarak, while six members of the AMK were rounded up in Yerevan by officers from the Sixth Directorate of the police which is normally tasked with fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. The feared police unit was also reportedly looking for the head of the AMK chapter in the city’s Nor Nork district.
However, a spokesman for the Armenian Police Service claimed that no one was detained after Tuesday’s protest in the city’s Freedom Square.
Hundreds of people across the country have been questioned, detained or briefly jailed by the law-enforcement since the start of the opposition campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian more than a month ago. The crackdown has been condemned by local human rights groups. They have also accused the authorities of illegally blocking transport communication between Yerevan and the rest of the country in order to prevent provincial residents from attending the opposition protests.
Many residents of the southern Ararat province complained on Wednesday that they are unable to travel to the capital ahead of such gatherings. “Every time they hear that there will be a demonstration they close all the roads,” said one man in the village of Ayntap. “No one dares get through the police roadblocks.”
“I counted 24 police officers on this intersection the other day,” another man said, pointing to the nearby highway.
The authorities, however, remain adamant in denying any politically transport blockades of Yerevan. In the words of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the police have simply stepped up identity checks on the country’s main highways. “When aggressive political forces say that they will change government through violence, the police are obliged to carry out checks,” he told RFE/RL.