By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian
At least three of the allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in recent days have been remanded in pre-trial custody on a string of criminal charges which the Armenian opposition rejects as politically motivated.
The Armenian police said on Wednesday that the most prominent of them, former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, has been formally charged with illegal arms possession and assault on “state officials performing their duties.”
Jahangirian was arrested along with his brother and two other companions on Saturday just hours after being sacked by President Robert Kocharian. The sacking came the day after the former chief military prosecutor delivered a fiery speech at a Ter-Petrosian rally in Yerevan in which he called the official results of the February 19 presidential election fraudulent and said the ex-president is the rightful winner of the vote.
According to the police, Jahangirian and his brother Vartan resisted arrest, compelling law-enforcement officers to use force against them. A police statement said one of the officers accidentally fired gunshots, lightly wounding Vartan Jahangirian and two of his comrades.
Jahangirian was visited on Tuesday in custody by Zaruhi Postanjian, a well-known lawyer and parliament deputy affiliated with the opposition Zharangutyun party. Speaking to RFE/RL, Postanjian condemned the case against the controversial former prosecutor as “political persecution.”
Ironically, Postanjian rose to prominence in late 2006 for helping to secure the sensational acquittal of three Armenian soldiers controversially accused of murdering two fellow conscripts in Nagorno-Karabakh at a time when Jahangirian served as chief military prosecutor. The young lawyer repeatedly accused investigators overseen by Jahangirian of torturing her clients.
Two other prominent detainees, Smbat Ayvazian and Suren Sureniants, are senior members of the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun party. Both men were arrested on Sunday near Yerevan’s Liberty Square where tens of thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters have been demonstrating against the official vote results for over a week. Ayvazian was charged late Tuesday with resisting arrest, while Sureniants is prosecuted for “organizing” the unsanctioned the rallies.
Two other jailed activists coordinated the ex-president’s election campaign in the northwestern Shirak region. Democratic Fatherland Party leader Petros Makeyan and Ashot Zakarian, head of the regional chapter of the influential Yerkrapah Union of war veterans, stand accused of obstructing the work of an election commission in the regional capital Gyumri. Both men deny the charges, saying that they simply protested against an instance of fraud in the polling station.
Another prominent oppositionist, Nor Zhamanakner Party leader Aram Karapetian, is facing prosecution on charges of “false denunciation.” Aides say the accusations stem from a speech in which Karapetian implicitly blamed President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian for the October 1999 assassinations in Armenia’s parliament. A court in Yerevan was expected to remand the pro-Russian politician in two-month custody later on Wednesday.
Ter-Petrosian has referred to his detained loyalists as “political prisoners,” saying that they were arrested as part of a government effort to derail his vocal campaign for the scrapping of the official vote results and a re-run of the presidential election.
However, Armenia’s pro-government human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, insisted on Wednesday that the cases against the oppositionists are not necessarily politically motivated. “Legal mechanisms will show whether all of that was justified,” he told journalists. “I don’t think that anyone wants a wave [of appeals] to the European Court of Human Rights. True, those individuals are mainly from the opposition camp but that doesn’t mean those accusations are unfounded from the legal standpoint.”
Harutiunian also urged the Armenian authorities and the Ter-Petrosian camp to embark on a political dialogue. He praised in that regard Sarkisian’s stated readiness to form a coalition government with his political opponents. “Intolerance and extremism has nothing to do with democracy,” he said in an apparent jibe at the radical opposition.
Meanwhile, the arrests of Ter-Petrosian supporters appear to be continuing. Lawyers close to the ex-president said law-enforcement bodies arrested late Tuesday two residents of the northern Noyemberian district. One of them is the older brother of Vano Siradeghian, Armenia’s fugitive former interior minister close to Ter-Petrosian. Officers of the National Security Service (NSS) were said to have detained the 73-year-old Seryozha Siradeghian after finding an old rifle in his house in the local village of Koti. The NSS did not immediately confirm the information.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Jahangirian.)