By Ruzanna Stepanian
Authorities in Yerevan have banned a rally which a prominent opposition figure recently released from jail planned to hold next week, it emerged on Thursday.
The Alliance of Armenian Volunteers (HKH), a hardline organization of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, decided to rally supporters in a public park on July 17, more than one month after its leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, served a controversial 18-month prison sentence and was set free.
According to Sefilian, the Yerevan municipality has banned the rally, citing police claims that opposition protesters intend to provoke clashes with law-enforcement authorities. Sefilian said the ban was also recommended by National Security Service (NSS) which warned of “mass disturbances” allegedly planned by organizers.
The two most recent demonstrations organized by Armenia’s main opposition led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian were not sanctioned on the same grounds. Despite the ban, the rallies went ahead and were not marred by any violent incidents. Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement, of which the HKH is a member, has scheduled its next protest for August 1.
Sefilian indicated that his organization will not defy the government ban and will try to hold the gathering indoors. “It will be a conference-type gathering,” he said. “We want to hold a discussion. We just need a place where several hundred people can sit down and talk.”
Sefilian and another war veteran, Vartan Malkhasian, had been arrested and charged with calling for a violent overthrow of the government in December 2006 just days after the founding congress of the HKH. A Yerevan court found Malkhasian guilty on that count and sentenced him to two years in prison in August 2007. The court cleared Sefilian of the charge but still jailed him for 18 months for illegally possessing a pistol which he had received as a gift from a former commander of the Karabakh Armenian army.
Sefilian and Malkhasian deny the accusations as politically motivated. They both endorsed Ter-Petrosian in Armenia’s recent presidential election despite his conciliatory line on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.