By Astghik Bedevian
Three pro-government members of Armenia’s parliament were on Thursday reportedly trying to secure the release of four supporters of Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested for assaulting a man who heckled the former president during a campaign rally.
The arrested men are opposition activists residing in the central town of Talin where Ter-Petrosian and his allies rallied hundreds of people on Sunday. The local police detained them on Tuesday on suspicion of throwing punches at a local man who shouted at the opposition candidate during the gathering that “the people of Talin are not with you.”
The detainees’ lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL that he thinks his clients will be formally charged with “hooliganism” on Friday and face the possibility of spending up to five years in prison. The police launched the criminal investigation into the incident Monday under another article of the Criminal Code that carries much softer punishment.
The Ter-Petrosian campaign has described the incident as a government “provocation” and demanded the immediate release of its local loyalists. The latter issued a joint statement from police custody on Thursday, saying that Talin resident Sarkis Karapetian was only “led away from the site of the meeting” by people furious with his “disrespectful remarks.”
Karapetian, meanwhile, held a news conference in Yerevan to defend the prosecution of his alleged assailants. Karapetian, who is a staunch government supporter, also denied allegations by the Ter-Petrosian campaign he was paid by the authorities to disrupt the rally. “I am not a provocateur and didn’t plan to do that,” he said. “It was a spontaneous action.”
Two parliament deputies affiliated with the opposition Zharangutyun party visited the detainees on Wednesday and tried unsuccessfully to have them set free. Three other lawmakers loyal to the government visited Talin for the same purpose on Thursday.
Like Karapetian and the detained activists, they are veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Two of them, Sasun Mikaelian and Hakob Hakobian, are affiliated with the parliament faction of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Mikaelian and the third parliamentarian, Rustam Gasparian, are also leading members of the influential Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans.
They were meeting with local Yerkrapah leaders behind the closed doors as of late evening. The local Ter-Petrosian campaign chief, Hayk Atanesian, told RFE/RL that they are discussing ways of ensuring the oppositionists’ release.
Mikaelian made a point of warmly welcoming Ter-Petrosian last week during the latter’s campaign trip to his constituency in the central Kotayk region.
(Photolur photo: Sarkis Karapetian.)