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By Ruzanna Stepanian
A Yerevan court fined Monday two young men for distributing leaflets demanding the release of an opposition supporter who was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for pelting a police officer with a plastic bottle during an anti-government demonstration last month.

Hakob Hakobian, 24, and Harutiun Alaverdian, 25, were detained in the city center on Sunday while they posted stickers on the walls that carried the picture of Edgar Arakelian, a resident of a nearby town arrested during the heavy-handed dispersal of the opposition protest on the night from April 12-13. A big caption under the pictures read, “Freedom to Edgar.”

The two men were taken to a police station and kept there for nine hours before being charged with “maliciously disobeying legitimate police orders” under Armenia’s Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offences. A police officer told the court that the two men were detained after refusing to remove the leaflets. He claimed that they “insulted” himself and another policeman, but could not specify what exactly they allegedly said.

The officer sparked laughter in the courtroom when he mispronounced a controversial and convoluted Administrative Code term signifying “insult” or “disrespect” in the Armenian language. More than a hundred opposition supporters have been sentenced to up to 15 days in prison under that clause in the past two months.

The presiding judge, Saro Aramian, found the charges credible and fined Hakobian and Alaverdian 1,000 drams ($2) and 1,500 respectively, ignoring their and their lawyer’s protests. The defense attorney, Argishti Kivirian, argued that Armenian citizens have the right to spread leaflets in accordance with the constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.

“There was a demand to go to the police station and I just wondered why,” a bewildered Alaverdian said.

Both men said they will not appeal the largely symbolic verdict but will continue to fight for the release of all individuals arrested in connection with the opposition campaign for President Robert Kocharian’s resignation. “The farther I stay away from this system the better for me,” Alaverdian said. “I’m not that rich, but I don’t regret paying 1,500 drams.”

Arakelian, 24, became last week the third opposition activist jailed on criminal charges since the start of the opposition campaign of street protests. At least 11 other opposition activists are being kept in detention pending a criminal investigation into their alleged coup attempts and “hooligan” acts.

All of them have been declared “political prisoners” by the opposition and a group of Armenian civic groups. Members of those groups have been picketing the Office of Prosecutor-General on an almost daily basis since May 13 to demand their release. The picket continued on Monday between 10 and 11 a.m. local time.

(Photolur photo: A young woman picketing the court that convicted Hakobian and Alaverdian.)
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