At least five more prominent allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, among them two parliament deputies, have been arrested on charges stemming from their active participation in Saturday’s opposition demonstration marred by deadly violence, opposition lawyers said on Monday.
The reported arrests raised to at least 30 the number of Ter-Petrosian supporters jailed in the aftermath of Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
Only one of them was officially confirmed by law-enforcement authorities. Police said parliament deputy Miasnik Malkhasian was detained while fleeing the scene of the protest early Sunday. A police statement said he is facing prosecution under Article 300 of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with attempts to “usurp power.”
It was not clear if state prosecutors have already asked the National Assembly to lift Malkhasian’s immunity from prosecution. Under Armenian law, they have to formally charge or free the lawmaker by Wednesday. Malkhasian’s lawyer, Melanya Arustamian, told RFE/RL that prosecutors allowed here to meet her client in custody and be present at his first interrogation by on Sunday.
According to opposition sources, law-enforcement authorities also detained another pro-Ter-Petrosian deputy, Hakob Hakobian, was part of the same criminal investigation into what the Armenian authorities call an opposition attempt at coup d’etat.
Malkhasian and Hakobian are leaders of Armenia’s two largest organizations of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war that supported, both officially and unofficially, Ter-Petrosian’s candidacy in the February 19 presidential election. The two men as well as Sasun Mikaelian, another war hero, were affiliated with the parliament faction of the governing Republican Party (HHK) before pledging allegiance to Ter-Petrosian.
Also reportedly arrested were at least three other opposition politicians who had held senior government and parliament positions during Ter-Petrosian’s rule. According to opposition lawyers, those are former deputy parliament speaker Karapet Rubinian, the former chief of the Armenian customs, Yerjanik Abgarian, and the former deputy head of the National Security Service, Gurgen Yeghiazarian.
“My client considers himself a political prisoner and has begun a hunger strike,” Rubinian’s lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL.
Several other top Ter-Petrosian allies, including former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, were arrested before the bloody crackdown on the opposition on a string of charges ranging from illegal arms possession to assault. All of them reject the accusations as baseless and politically motivated.
As part of the ongoing crackdown, investigators searched on Monday the Yerevan home of Ter-Petrosian’s brother Petros. The latter said they spent two and a half hours looking for weapons, ammunition and incriminating documents. “During the search they did not find anything of interest to the investigators,” said Petros Ter-Petrosian.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that a total of 30 oppositionists have been arrested since the start of post-election demonstrations in Yerevan.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian expressed concern about reports of mass arrests and ill-treatment of opposition supporters which he said his office is receiving from citizens. Harutiunian said that he conveyed his concerns to Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and that the latter promised to release the list of all detainees.
In a written statement, Harutiunian also said Saturday’s bloody clashes between security forces and Ter-Petrosian supporters were made possible by the break-up earlier in the day of the 11-day opposition sit-in in Yerevan’s Liberty. Square. He questioned the official explanation for the use of force against peaceful demonstrators camped there.
(Photolur photo: Riot police confront thousands of opposition supporters on March 1.)