An Armenian opposition activist and former prominent boxer was formally remanded in custody on Tuesday pending trial on assault charges which he and his supporters say are politically motivated.
A court in Yerevan allowed the Armenian police to keep Samson Khachatrian under two-month pre-trial arrest, ignoring his strong protestations of innocence.
Khachatrian, who is affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), was arrested on Sunday and charged with assaulting police officers during the HAK’s March 1 rally in Yerevan. He denies the accusation.
According to Khachatrian’s family, the former athlete only tried to stop a group of plainclothes men from hitting women attending the rally. The HAK leadership has condemned the arrest, alleging political motives behind the case and demanding the activist’s immediate release.
Khachatrian struck a defiant note as he was brought to the district court. “We’ll do a Tunisia, we’ll do a Tunisia,” he shouted to supporters standing outside the court building, referring to HAK threats to trigger the kind of uprising that toppled the North African nation’s longtime ruler last month.
“Don’t pick a fight, we’ll prevail peacefully,” added the oppositionist.
Two Armenian parliamentarians who were allowed to visit Khachatrian late on Monday also called for his release. “Samson is my childhood friend and was also my challenger in [the parliamentary elections of] 2007,” Victor Dallakian, an independent deputy, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I think there is nothing extraordinary in my visiting the detention center and expressing my solidarity with Samson Khachatrian.”
“That is not Samson’s place,” said Dallakian. “Within the framework of my parliamentary powers and in a manner defined by law, I will seek to support him.”
Stepan Safarian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, described Khachatrian’s prosecution as “shameful.” “Of course, it was a provocation,” he said of the March 1 incident. “Time and again, we are faced with the same situation related to the Yerevan police, which are acting in utter disregard of the law on police.”
The police chief of Yerevan’s central administrative district, Ashot Karapetian, insisted on Monday Khachatrian’s political views and activities have nothing to do with his prosecution.