By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
A senior member of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) called on Monday for the release of three fellow parliamentarians and other opposition members arrested in the wake of the disputed February 19 presidential election.
Artsvik Minasian said that their release from jail pending trial would not hinder the ongoing criminal investigation into the post-election unrest in Yerevan.
“In my personal view, the preventive measure [taken against the oppositionists] can be very easily changed,” he said. “The same criminal proceedings can continue even with those people being at large.”
The charges brought against them mainly stem from the March 1 deadly clashes between supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and security forces. The most prominent of the 70 or so opposition detainees stand accused of plotting a coup d’etat and inciting the violence for that purpose. The opposition strongly denies the accusations. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) also cast doubt on their credibility last month.
Nonetheless, Armenian prosecutors and courts have since prolonged the pre-trial detentions of three opposition members of parliament and other prominent politicians arrested in the post-election crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. In the latest such example, the Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision to allow investigators to keep Sasun Mikaelian, one of the jailed lawmakers, under arrest for two more months.
Minasian, who is a member of a parliament commission investigating the March 1 unrest, was particularly concerned about the fate of another arrested parliamentarian, Miasnik Malkhasian. He said Malkhasian’s health condition is deteriorating and he needs to be urgently hospitalized.
Another opposition leader, Ararat Zurabian, was last week transferred from a Yerevan prison to a heart clinic after being diagnosed with a serious cardiac disease. Zurabian is the chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement,
Meanwhile, the trial continued in Yerevan on Monday of Smbat Ayvazian, a leader of another opposition party, Hanrapetutyun, who was arrested on February 24 and subsequently charged with resisting the police and possessing a truncheon. He was again given a heroe’s welcome by dozens of opposition supporters who packed the courtroom.
“You are attending a theater pefromance, a comedy,” Ayvazian told them, ignoring the judge. “So don’t get nervous and just have fun.” “The regime’s days are numbered,” he added to rapturous applause.
Speaking to RFE/RL moments later, Ayvazian accused the court of acting on government orders and said he does not expected to be set free by the authorities. “I have no expectations whatsoever from the court,” said the former head of the State Tax Service.
“If we were set free, the movement [led by Ter-Petrosian] would gain more momentum,” he said. “That’s why they are keeping us in jail.”
(Photolur photo: Artsvik Minasian.)