By Shake Avoyan
The American wife of an arrested oppositionist says she is still waiting for a meeting with the prime minister promised to her a week ago.
Melissa Brown, the spouse of Alexander Arzumanian, told reporters on Wednesday that she had not yet received any response from Serzh Sarkisian despite his staff member’s promise on his behalf.
Last week, members of a civil group set up in defense of the ex-foreign minister, who was arrested on money laundering charges last month, held a demonstration of protest near the government building demanding his immediate release. A government representative who came out to meet the protestors said then that in the coming days the prime minister could receive only Arzumanian’s wife.
The U.S. citizen, who claims that her husband is a political prisoner, said that she and three other activists had prepared formal letters to be sent out to all foreign diplomats and international organizations in Armenia.
“In the letter we request a meeting during which we will have a small conversation about this incident to try to get them to recognize Alex [Arzumanian] as a political prisoner and assist us as far as they can,” Brown said, presenting the contents of the letter.
Arzumanian, who served as foreign minister under Armenia’s former administration, has been kept at the jail of Armenia’s National Security Service since May 7 on charges of illegally receiving a large amount of money from a fugitive Russian businessman of Armenian descent. His arrest came two days after law-enforcers searched his Yerevan apartment and confiscated $55,400 kept there.
Late last month Armenia’s Court of Appeals refused to release Arzumanian from jail pending investigation, thus upholding a lower court’s decision to allow the national security service to keep the outspoken opposition politician under two-month arrest.
Civil rights activist Vartan Harutiunian says Arzumanian is kept in custody for several reasons, including for founding a movement of disobedience last autumn and for his position on the Karabakh conflict settlement in the top diplomat’s capacity, which he is known to have retained since resigning in the late 1990s.
Arzumanian has lodged a case with the European Court of Human Rights in which he asserts he is being kept in custody illegally and discards the charges leveled at him as fabricated.
Arzumanian’s loyalists say the case at the European Court will be continued even if he is released any time soon.
Edik Baghdasarian, the head of the Association of Investigative Journalists, expresses bewilderment that Arzumanian has to be proving his innocence, while it is the job of the investigation bodies to find and provide the evidence of his guilt.
Armenia Helsinki Committee President Avetik Ishkhanian says it is the society rather than the state that determines whether a person kept in custody is a political prisoner or not.
“Any state will deny having political prisoners. Instead they call them all criminals,” he told RFE/RL. “It was the case in the Soviet Union, in post-communist countries, and now it is the case in Cuba and other undemocratic countries.”