By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Suren Sureniants, one of the opposition activists arrested last month, has gone on hunger strike to protest his continuing imprisonment and demand the release of all “political prisoners” in Armenia, his lawyer said on Thursday.
The attorney, Robert Grigorian, told RFE/RL that his client is refusing food in protest against the refusal of the Armenian Court of Appeals to grant him bail pending the ongoing criminal investigation into the opposition campaign against President Robert Kocharian.
Sureniants and several other senior members of the opposition Artarutyun alliance, among them former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, have been held in custody for more than a month, accused of publicly advocating a “violent overthrow of constitutional order” and “insulting” senior government officials. They strongly deny the charges.
The Artarutyun activists top the list of 14 opposition detainees who have been declared political prisoners by several local non-governmental organizations. Three of those detainees have already been sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “hooliganism” stemming from their violent clash with Kocharian supporters and plainclothes police that tried to disrupt an opposition rally in Gyumri in late March.
Armenia’s presidentially appointed human rights ombudsman, Larisa Alaverdian, on Thursday admitted that the case against Sureniants and the other oppositionists is politically motivated. “These cases contain a political component,” she told RFE/RL, specifically deploring the pre-trial arrests.
Alaverdian also urged Sureniants to end the hunger strike. “The situation is not yet such that he has to resort to such actions,” she said.
Meanwhile, Artarutyun and its opposition ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), said 28 of their activists around the country were rounded up and questioned by the police on Thursday ahead of Friday’s opposition rally in Yerevan which could end in another march towards Kocharian’s residence. Opposition sources said some of them were sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment under the Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offences.
A spokesman for the national police in Yerevan refused to refute or confirm the information.