Yet another member of the Armenian opposition who went into hiding following the February 2008 presidential election was arrested after surrendering to police on Thursday.
Hamlet Hovannisian, a retired army colonel who coordinated opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign in the northern Lori region, has been wanted by the Armenian authorities for allegedly organizing deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan along with other opposition figures. He turned himself in just one day before the official deadline set for fugitive oppositionists willing to be granted amnesty.
Under a government-drafted amnesty bill passed by parliament on June 19, they will be set free if found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison. Two of the fugitives have already come out of hiding to go to prison.
“With my surrender I want to prove that they did not show a goodwill and declared the amnesty under pressure,” Hovannisian told reporters in his Yerevan apartment before heading to the police headquarters in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district. “The president would have shown a real goodwill if he had stated that everyone [arrested in connection with the March 2008 unrest] must be acquitted or at least demanded that the courts make fair decisions,” he said.
Armen Martirosian, an opposition parliamentarian who escorted Hovannisian to the police station, welcomed the surrender. “I hope that the authorities will be prudent enough not to keep him in pre-trial detention,” Martirosian said.
However, Hovannisian was placed under arrest in accordance with an earlier court ruling. The oppositionist’s son and defense lawyer, Givi Hovannisian, told RFE/RL that he does not believe in the independence of Armenian courts and therefore thinks that his father has no chance of acquittal in Armenia. He said he is already planning an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The latest surrender left only two opposition figures remaining on the run 17 months after the deadly clashes in Yerevan. One of them, businessman and parliament deputy Khachatur Sukiasian, made clear on Wednesday that he will not emerge from hiding. Both Sukiasian and the other fugitive, Virab Manukian, are believed to have fled Armenia last year.