By Karine Kalantarian, Hovannes Shoghikian and Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
Armenian prosecutors dismissed the case against Suren Sureniants, a prominent opposition figure arrested in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General confirmed on Friday.
According to Sona Truzian, the special investigation service also dropped charges against two dozen other opposition figures prosecuted for their alleged role in the March 1 melee.
Hovik Arsenian, a legal aid to Sureniants, said he and Sureniants were invited to the Office of the Prosecutor-General Thursday afternoon where an investigator had told them that ‘the part of the criminal case concerning Sureniants was dismissed for insufficient evidence as well as in view of a changed situation.’”
Arsenian said no further explanations were given to them by investigators.
Sureniants, a senior member of the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, was among more than 100 Ter-Petrosian supporters jailed as part of the ongoing government crackdown on the opposition. Accusations leveled against them mostly stem from the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters.
Although Sureniants was taken into custody four days before those clashes, he too was charged with attempting to seize power and organizing “mass riots” in addition to being accused of actively participating in Ter-Petrosian’s peaceful but unsanctioned post-election rallies.
Sureniants had spent nearly two months in custody before investigators granted him release pending trial following a written petition signed by several mostly pro-government members of Armenia’s parliament.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Sureniants said: “It was obvious to me from the very outset that I was a victim of political persecution and that the criminal cases related to March 1 had no prospect and would be dropped one day.”
“The same way as they had instituted these fabricated cases, the same way on unclear grounds they have now started to close them,” the Hanrapetutyun activist emphasized, calling the wording “changed situation” vague and unclear to him.
Meanwhile, a court in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri on Friday handed lengthy prison terms on three opposition activists who supported former president Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 19 presidential election.
In particular, Democratic Homeland party leader Petros Makeyan was found guilty of hampering the work of an electoral commission on the polling day and sentenced to three years in jail.
Ashot Zakarian and Shota Saghatelian were also found guilty of the same charge and each sentenced to two and a half years in jail. However, the court decided to apply the sentence in respect of the latter conditionally and let him walk free from the court-room.
None of the convicts had pleaded guilty to the charges. The court verdicts were passed amid the continuing outcry of the opposition that scores of opposition members are being persecuted for political reasons.
Also, a criminal court in Yerevan sentenced Artur Nazaretian to three years in prison after finding him guilty of a number of crimes committed in the course of the March 1 mass disturbances in the Armenian capital.
Meanwhile, another Yerevan court the same day acquitted citizens Avetik Nersisian and Misak Hovakimian, who had been charged with resisting and using violence against police. These became the second and third acquittals in the post-election violence-related cases and all three were brought in during the past two days. Earlier, the court acquitted Nver Sarkisian of the same charge.