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Opposition Youth Risks 10 Years In Jail


Armenia -- Jailed opposition activist Tigran Arakelian is taken to a Yerevan court, 08Jul2009

Armenia -- Jailed opposition activist Tigran Arakelian is taken to a Yerevan court, 08Jul2009

The Armenian police have leveled a new and graver accusation against a young opposition activist who was controversially arrested after distributing opposition leaflets in Yerevan three months ago.

Tigran Arakelian was initially accused of “hooliganism,” a crime punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. He was charged on Monday also under another article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with assaults on “representatives of the state authority.” The charge carries up to 10 years in prison.

Arakelian was one of several young members of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) who clashed with plainclothes police on July 1 as they publicized an HAK rally held in Yerevan the next day. He and two other youths were injured in the incident and required hospitalization. They said they were punched, kicked and pistol-whipped for informing city residents about the rally.

The 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. Testimony given by one of them, Erik Poghosian, forms the basis of the criminal case against Arakelian.

According to Arakelian’s lawyer, Vartuhi Elbakian, the police attributed their decision to toughen the charges against her client to police doctors’ conclusion that Poghosian suffered “light bodily injuries” in the July 1 incident. “Poghosian is a distinguished victim,” Elbakian noted with sarcasm, referring to the fact that the policeman had also given incriminating testimony against several prominent opposition figures arrested following last years’ post-election unrest in the capital.

The police decided to seek a longer prison sentence for Arakelian despite his poor health. The oppositionist was taken to a prison hospital shortly after his July 5 and has been kept there since then, complaining of persistent headaches, dizziness and vision problems. Doctors found last week serious damage caused to his optical nerve.

“I saw Tigran yesterday,” said Elbakian. “His condition wasn’t good … He was unable to walk without help and was shaking terribly.”

The lawyer spoke to RFE/RL after hearings in Armenia’s Court of Appeals on her demands for Arakelian’s release from pre-trial detention that have been repeatedly rejected by the police and state prosecutors. The court is due to rule on the petition on Wednesday. “I have no hopes,” said Elbakian.
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