By Ruzanna Stepanian
Police in Yerevan tracked down and arrested on Tuesday a longtime associate of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who has been on the run since the launch of the Armenian government’s post-election crackdown on the opposition.
Samvel Gevorgian ran one of Ter-Petrosian’s regional campaign offices during the February 19 presidential election and is better known as one of the leaders of the 1988 movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia.
Gevorgian went into hiding following the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. Unlike most other opposition members wanted or arrested in connection with the violence, he was accused of obstructing the work of an election commission in the Martuni district in eastern Armenia.
According to prosecutors, Gevorgian and more than a dozen other opposition activists burst into a village polling station and tried intimidate local election officials on election day. Gevorgian denied the accusations before going into hiding, saying that he simply tried to prevent election fraud.
A spokesman for Ter-Petrosian condemned his arrest as a “classical example of political persecution.” “Political repressions in Armenia are continuing,” Arman Musinian told RFE/RL. “With Samvel Gevorgian’s arrest, the number of political prisoners in Armenia has increased,” he said, referring to several dozen opposition members arrested as part of the crackdown.
The Armenian authorities have long faced pressure from the West to prosecute individuals guilty of serious irregularities that have tainted just about every election held in the country since independence. More than 20 such criminal cases were opened following the February election that was also marred by fraud reports. Most of the individuals arrested and prosecuted as a result are apparently Ter-Petrosian supporters.
One of them, Harutiun Urutian, was sentenced to six years in prison late last month, in what was the harshest election-related punishment in Armenia’s history. Urutian ran Ter-Petrosian’s campaign office in the northwestern town of Maralik. Armenia’s Court of Appeals upheld on May 22 a lower court ruling that found him guilty of assaulting a proxy of establishment candidate Serzh Sarkisian at a local polling station and thereby obstructing the work of its election commission.
The high court also upheld the next day three-year prison sentences given to two Ter-Petrosian proxies in the eastern town of Gavar. They were convicted of “prodding” the chairwoman of a local precinct election commission, Hripsime Haytian, to inflate the number of ballots cast for not only Ter-Petrosian but Sarkisian and other candidates. Haytian, who is affiliated with the governing Prosperous Armenia Party, got off with a suspended jail term.
Also facing imprisonment on the same charges are three other, more prominent, opposition leaders who campaigned for Ter-Petrosian in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. Prosecutors demanded on Monday that a local court sentence them to between two-and-a-half and four years in prison. The demand sparked furious protests from opposition supporters who packed the courtroom, leading the presiding judge to decide to hold the rest of the trial behind closed doors.
(Photolur photo: Samvel Gevorgian.)