By Ruzanna Stepanian
Three dozen arrested opposition leaders and activists began a collective hunger strike on Wednesday to demand their release from jail and an end to what they see as government repressions against supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
According to Ter-Petrosian’s office, most of them will end the protest on Thursday and but will refuse food “indefinitely” if the authorities fail to meet their demands by April 9. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is scheduled to be sworn in as Armenia’s next president on that day.
The full list of the hunger strikers was made available to RFE/RL by a Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prisons. Under Armenian prison regulations, they have to inform the department about the extraordinary action. A department spokesman said all of them have done so on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Among the protesting detainees are parliament deputies Miasnik Malkhasian and Sasun Mikaelian, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, and Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh). They are accused of organizing “mass riots” and attempting to “usurp power” in the wake of the February 19 presidential election.
Similar accusations have also been leveled against dozens of other, less known, oppositions arrested as part of the ongoing crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. Virtually all of them deny the accusations as baseless and politically motivated.
Zurabian’s lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, confirmed that his client is on a one-day hunger strike and is ready to resume it on April 9. Speaking to RFE/RL, Ter-Yesayan also said that officers of the National Security Service (NSS) detained and interrogation on Wednesday the manager, accountant and other workers of a Yerevan café belonging to Zurabian’s family.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Sona Truzian, confirmed the information, saying that the café staff were questioned in connection with the ongoing investigation into what the authorities call a coup attempt by Ter-Petrosian. She did not give details.
Zurabian’s café is located just meters away from Yerevan’s Liberty Square, the scene of non-stop demonstrations staged by the opposition from February 21 through March 1. Ter-Petrosian and his associates frequently visited it during the post-election protests.
(Photolur photo: Ararat Zurabian.)