By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian authorities have stopped their controversial criminal investigation into the opposition Artarutyun alliance’s campaign for regime change, a senior prosecutor told RFE/RL on Tuesday.
Andranik Mirzoyan, head of the main investigative department at the Prosecutor-General’s Office, cited no official motive for the move. He said only that the decision to close the criminal case against Artarutyun was taken a month ago.
It is not clear why the decision was made public now. Mirzoyan and other prosecutors have been contacted by RFE/RL on the issue over the past month but did not divulge the information.
The criminal proceedings were launched on March 30 at the start of an opposition campaign of street protests aimed at toppling President Robert Kocharian. The prosecutor’s office said in a statement at the time that Artarutyun leaders “publicly insulted representatives of government” and threatened to “seize state power with violence and change constitutional order of the Republic of Armenia.”
The statement marked the start of a tough government crackdown on Artarutyun and its opposition allies, paving the way for the arrests of scores of opposition activists in the next three months. Criminal charges leveled against some of them were incorporated into the case only to be subsequently dropped.
Artarutyun leaders said on Tuesday that they have received no official notification from the prosecutors. “I don’t know if that fabricated and nonsensical criminal case was indeed closed,” the bloc’s chairman, Stepan Demirchian, told RFE/RL. “If it was, it would be logical to hold accountable those who fabricated it.”
“I hear the news from you,” said another prominent oppositionist, Albert Bazeyan.
Some leaders of the ruling coalition welcomed the development. “If the case was closed then it’s a good news because it is impossible to fight against parties or blocs with criminal cases,” said Aghvan Vartan, the minister of social affairs and a leading member of the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
The announcement of the news followed the release of several opposition activists jailed for their participation in the unsanctioned rallies. The opposition leaders, meanwhile, say they will continue to fight for a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian. But they have indicated that they will not launch another series of rallies in Yerevan this year.