By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenian prosecutors moved on Thursday to prolong the pre-trial arrest of a prominent opposition leader allied to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian despite a doctor’s warning about his deteriorating health condition.
Armen Gasparian, a cardiologist who examined Aram Karapetian in prison, said the leader of the opposition Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party will risk suffering a heart attack or stroke unless he is “immediately” hospitalized.
Karapetian was arrested on February 24 on charges of “false denunciation” stemming from the distribution of DVDs featuring his incriminatory questions to then President Robert Kocharian and his incoming successor, Serzh Sarkisian. He challenged them to publicly explain whether they planned a controversial land swap with Azerbaijan in September 1999 and whether then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, who were assassinated shortly afterwards, opposed it.
Karapetian has denied the charges as politically motivated, saying that he did not explicitly accuse Kocharian and Sarkisian of masterminding the killings. Nonetheless, the National Security Service (NSS) has refused to drop the case. NSS investigators petitioned a Yerevan court on Thursday to allow them to keep the outspoken oppositionist under arrest for two more months.
The move came just hours after Gasparian described Karapetian’s condition as “very dangerous.” “He must be taken to a specialized cardiology clinic,” the doctor told reporters. “A delay would be very dangerous for his life.”
A senior member of Nor Zhamanakner, Hrachya Sargsian, declared a hunger strike in support of this appeal outside the headquarters of Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General later in the day.
A spokesman for a Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prisons insisted, however, Karapetian’s heart troubles are not grave and that he can receive medical treatment in the NSS’s basement jail downtown Yerevan. Arsen Babayan told RFE/RL that the department has nonetheless decided to form a special commission of its own medics and independent doctors that will look into Gasparian’s claims. Karapetian was already being examined by them on Wednesday evening, according to the official.
Karapetian’s arrest was part of a broader crackdown on the opposition launched by the Armenian government in the wake of last February’s disputed presidential election. Dozens of other Ter-Petrosian allies were arrested following the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between police and opposition protesters.