Armenian law-enforcement authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of one of the two opposition parliamentarians who went into hiding following the deadly clashes between security forces and thousands of supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said Sasun Mikaelian was tracked down and detained by officers of the National Security in an unspecified location in Yerevan on Wednesday. The official, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL that he was immediately charged with organizing “mass riots” and attempting to overthrow the government.
The charges stem from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan in which at least seven protesters and one interior troop officer were killed. The Armenian authorities say the violence was part of a coup plot hatched by Ter-Petrosian and his allies. Dozens of them have been arrested on corresponding charges.
As part of the crackdown, the government-controlled National Assembly stripped Mikaelian and three other deputies allied to Ter-Petrosian of their legal immunity from prosecution last week. Two of them, Miasnik Malkhasian and Hakob Hakobian, had already been detained by the police. The fourth lawmaker, businessman Khachatur Sukiasian, as well as several other prominent oppositionists remain on the run.
Like Malkhasian and Hakobian, Mikaelian is a prominent veteran of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. All three men were elected to the parliament on the ticket of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). They defected from the HHK’s parliament faction and pledged allegiance to Ter-Petrosian in the run-up to the February 19 presidential election.
Mikaelian’s capture raised to at least 97 the number of Ter-Petrosian supporters jailed by the authorities since the election. The opposition leader has described them as political prisoners.
According to his spokesman, Arman Musinian, the unprecedented wave of arrests dominated Ter-Petrosian’s meeting on Thursday with Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s visiting commissioner for human rights. “Not only have the arrests not stopped but are continuing today,” Musinian told RFE/RL. He said Ter-Petrosian told Hammarberg that some of the detainees have been ill-treated in custody.
But Truzian denied the torture allegations. She said Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian assured Hammarberg that the law-enforcement authorities are respecting the due process of law and giving all detainees access to lawyers.
The Council of Europe official also met with outgoing President Robert Kocharian. The latter was quoted by his office as defending the use of force against the opposition protesters and promising to “normalize the situation” in Armenia as soon as possible.
“I am concerned about the human rights situation in Armenia and the consequences of the declaration of the state of emergency” Hammarberg said in a statement issued before his trip to Yerevan. “It is urgent to restore a situation where the activities of the media, political parties and non-governmental organisations are not hindered.”
(Police photo: Mikaelian pictured after his arrest.)