By Karine Kalantarian and Irina Hovannisian in Prague
Armenian prosecutors confirmed on Wednesday that two of the opposition activists facing lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in the post-election protests in Yerevan were arrested in Georgia and extradited to Armenia by Georgian law-enforcement authorities.
Samvel Abovian and Suren Sirunian are among more than a hundred supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election. Like the vast majority of the detainees, they have been charged in connection with the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between riot police and opposition demonstrators.
A leader of the Armenian community in Tbilisi, Arnold Stepanian, told RFE/RL earlier this week that dozens of Ter-Petrosian supporters have fled to Georgia since the launch of the unprecedented government crackdown. He said at least two of them have been arrested and extradited by the Georgian police.
A spokeswoman for Georgia’s Interior Ministry denied this. “I don’t know where they got that information from,” a ministry spokesman, Shota Khizanishvili, told RFE/RL on Monday. “It does not correspond to reality.”
But both Abovian and Sirunian insisted through their defense lawyer that they did flee to Tbilisi to avoid prosecution at home following the March 1 unrest. “They were detained in Georgia on March 9, at one o’clock in the morning,” the lawyer, Anzhela Hobosian, told RFE/RL. She said the two men were handed over to Armenian law-enforcement bodies on March 10 and formally charged with organizing “mass riots” two days later.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, confirmed the information. But she declined to give further details.
A spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Tigran Balayan, pointed to a 2000 Georgian-Armenian agreement that obligates the two governments to extradite criminal suspects.
Stepanian claimed, however, that the two Armenian oppositionists were apprehended in “blatant violation” of the Georgian constitution. “According to our constitution, Georgia can not extradite people fleeing other countries for political reasons,” he said.
Stepanian warned that the Georgian authorities will face protests from domestic opposition and civic groups if they catch more Armenians who he said have taken refuge in Tbilisi and other parts of the country, including the Armenian-populated Javakheti region. “According to our information, there are now some 40 people in Georgia who fled Armenia and fear that they would be arrested upon their return home,” he said. “They are all opposition members who participated in the [Ter-Petrosian] rallies.”
Stepanian said he has met and spoken with several fugitive oppositionists. He said some of them claimed to be members of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and the Yerkrapah Union of Armenian war veterans that unofficially supported Ter-Petrosian during the presidential race.
(Photolur photo: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.)