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Jailed Opposition Youth Declares Hunger Strike


Armenia -- Jailed opposition activist Tigran Arakelian at the court, 08Jul2009

Armenia -- Jailed opposition activist Tigran Arakelian at the court, 08Jul2009

A young opposition activist who was arrested and prosecuted after handing out opposition leaflets in Yerevan two months ago said on Monday that he will go on a hunger strike to demand his release from prison.

Tigran Arakelian is facing up to five years in prison for allegedly assaulting plainclothes police officers on July 1 while publicizing, together with several other opposition youths, a rally held by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) the next day. He and two teenage HAK supporters were injured in the incident and required hospitalization. They said they were punched, kicked and even pistol-whipped for informing Yerevan residents about the rally.

The Armenian police insist, however, that law-enforcement officers themselves came under attack when they tried to stop a brawl involving 60 young people. Three policemen sustained injuries as a result, according to the police.

Arakelian was arrested on July 5 and transferred to a prison hospital in the capital on July 15 after complaining of serious health problems. A Yerevan court extended his pre-trial arrest by two months last week.

In a statement issued on Monday, the 28-year-old condemned the court ruling and said that his condition is deteriorating “day by day.” “Thus, the regime has finally proved that it is keeping me as a political hostage,” he charged. “I am being persecuted only for my political views.”

Arakelian added that he will start “indefinitely” refusing food on Tuesday in protest against his imprisonment which he said is part of a broader government effort to bully young Armenians sympathetic to the opposition. Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for a Justice Ministry department overseeing Armenia’s prisons, told RFE/RL that Arakelian formally notified the prison hospital administration about his decision. In accordance with the law, the opposition will be transferred to a special prison cell and placed under 24-hour medical surveillance for the duration of the hunger strike, said Babayan.

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone, Arakelian said that he has partly lost his eyesight and is increasingly suffering from dizziness and insomnia as a result of head injuries inflicted on him by a policeman. He said he will go ahead with the protest against the advice of his opposition comrades and a prison psychologist.

Violent incidents involving plainclothes police officers and HAK youths were also reported ahead of other rallies held by the opposition alliance earlier this year. The HAK blamed the Armenian government and police for the violence. The police claimed the opposite.
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