By Ruzanna Stepanian and Karine Kalantarian
Tax inspectors have confiscated thousands of newly printed leaflets announcing former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s upcoming rally in Yerevan, it emerged on Thursday.
According to Aleksandr Arzumanian, a close Ter-Petrosian associate, an activist of the opposition Aylentrank movement was detained by officials from the State Tax Service (STS) while receiving 4,000 leaflets from a printing house in the capital on Wednesday. He said the activist, Artak Arakelian, was taken into custody on the grounds that he had no documents certifying the origin of the fliers.
“After keeping him in custody for six hours they fined him 15,000 drams ($50),” Arzumanian told RFE/RL. The STS officials also inspected the Van Arian printing company’s books and briefly detained one of its employees, he said.
A spokeswoman for the STS, Alina Khudoyan, essentially confirmed the information, saying that the leaflets were “temporarily” confiscated because Van Arian did not input the Aylentrank order into its accounts in order to evade taxes. Khudoyan said the tax collection agency fined the company, rather that Arakelian. Speaking to RFE/RL, she could not say when the leaflets will be returned to Aylentrank.
Arzumanian dismissed the official explanation and described the STS actions as the latest example of government harassment of Ter-Petrosian supporters in advance of next February’s presidential elections. “They are doing everything to prevent us from informing the public that we will hold a rally in Liberty Square on Saturday,” he said.
The Ter-Petrosian camp reported similar incidents ahead of the two previous Yerevan rallies held by the ex-president last month. It said in particular that police, acting on government orders, destroyed leaflets announcing those rallies and detained young opposition activists distributing leaflets.
One of those activists, Narek Galstian, was severely beaten on November 15 just days after being reportedly arrested and interrogated by the police. Galstian claimed that he was mistreated in police custody and warned against engaging in anti-government activities. Nobody has been arrested in connection with his beating so far.
The Yerevan police had also come under fire after using force against a small group of opposition activists that marched through the city center to publicize Ter-Petrosian’s first rally held on October 26. Several of those activists, including two newspaper editors, are now facing criminal prosecution for resisting police officers and disrupting public order.
This did not keep them from organizing a similar march in Yerevan on Thursday. Its participants handed out leaflets and DVDs of Ter-Petrosian’s recent speeches to city reisdents and urged them to attend Saturday’s rally.
Many passersby took notice, even if not all of them were Ter-Petrosian supporters. “I believe that only Levon Ter-Petrosian’s election can save the Armenian people,” said one young woman.
“I will go to the polls but won’t vote for Levon,” said another.
Aylentrank plans to stage a similar demonstration on Friday. This and other political groups supporting Ter-Petrosian say they are forced to take their campaign to the streets because none of Armenia’s major TV stations has agreed to air paid advertisements of Ter-Petrosian’s election-related activities. One provincial TV channel which broke ranks to broadcast a September speech by Ter-Petrosian has been accused by the STS of tax evasion and now risks being taken off the air.
“We are not doing anything illegal,” said Arzumanian. “We will try to find other printing houses,” he added. “But as you know, everyone is scared now.”