By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Several opposition activists, among them a parliament deputy, on Monday accused the Armenian police of illegally using force to stop them distributing leaflets demanding the release of prominent government critics.
The opposition movement Aylentrank (Alternative) said three of its members were detained by the police late Saturday while they handed out leaflets to participants and spectators at the official opening of the Fourth Pan-Armenian Games. The week-long games are attended by some 2,500 amateur athletes from Armenia and Armenian Diaspora communities from around the world.
The Aylentrank leader, Nikol Pashinian, said the activists were released from a police station in central Yerevan several hours later after his personal intervention. One of them, Vardges Gasparian, told RFE/RL that officers there counted confiscated all of the leaflets.
The Police Service refused to confirm or deny this. A spokesman said the police are only investigating similar claims made by Zaruhi Postanjian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
In Postanjian’s words, she and her aide Seda Melikian were jostled by police officers as they distributed the same leaflets outside Yerevan’s Republican Stadium, the venue of the opening ceremony attended by President Robert Kocharian and other top government officials. She said they then went into the stadium only to be surrounded by two dozen police officers trying to forcibly detain them.
“We stepped aside and said we won’t follow them,” Postanjian told RFE/RL. “They were using force to take us away.”
Postanjian, who is also a well-known lawyer, added that the law-enforcement authorities wrested a bag containing leaflets and legal documents from her hands in the process. “The bag contained many important documents relating to my former clients,” she said.
The two women visited a police station in Yerevan’s central Kentron district later in the evening to demand that the police apologize and return the bag. “When we demanded our package back they said it’s gone,” said Melikian, also a lawyer.
The leaflets condemned the imprisonment of four “political prisoners” highly critical of Armenia’s leadership and urged Armenians to campaign for their immediate release. Three of the jailed individuals have already been controversially sentenced to between 18 months and three-and-a-half years in prison. The fourth detainee, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, is awaiting trial on charges of being illegally financed from abroad.
All four men have rejected the charges brought against them as politically motivated and baseless. The authorities, however, deny any political reasons for their high-profile prosecution.