Seven young activists of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) were arrested late on Tuesday and remained in custody on Wednesday after clashing with police in Yerevan in unclear circumstances.
The HAK strongly condemned the arrests as a provocation. In a statement issued on Wednesday, it demanded that the Armenian authorities free the activists and punish police officers who used force against them.
HAK sources said the violent occurred after two of the activists tried to stop police officers from arbitrarily checking the identity of other young people walking in the city center. They said they and the five other opposition youths, who joined them moments later, were beaten up and driven to the police headquarters in Yerevan’s central Kentron district as a result.
The Armenian police did not give their version of events as of Wednesday evening. A police spokesman said only that a criminal case has been opened under articles of the Criminal Code dealing with hooliganism and assault on state officials.
Under Armenian law, the police must formally charge the seven men or set them free by late Friday.
Several dozen HAK members and supporters gathered outside the police station later on Tuesday to demand the immediate release of the activists. Their lawyers were allowed into the building but claimed to have been unable to talk to their clients.
Nevertheless, the detainees somehow managed to photograph and videotape themselves from mobile phones and circulate those images on the Internet. Some of them had visible injuries on their faces and backs.
Senior HAK figures at the scene alleged that the detainees were also beaten up in custody. “We heard the cries of our boys, they were being hit,” one of them, Avetis Avagian, said.
But Davit Harutiunian, who heads a delegation representing the Armenian government in its ongoing talks with the HAK, denied the torture claims. Harutiunian visited the Kentron police on Wednesday morning after an appeal from the chief opposition negotiator, Levon Zurabian.
Zurabian warned on Tuesday night that the incident called into question continued dialogue between the two rival political camps. “We have to seriously analyze the existing situation and decide whether we need such dialogue,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The HAK statement issued the next day contained no such explicit threat, though. It suggested that “some forces” in the government are taking advantage of President Serzh Sarkisian’s absence from Armenia to derail the dialogue.
The opposition alliance claimed at the same time that the Armenian authorities may have provoked the violent incident in response to HAK demands for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections that have been voiced during the ongoing negotiations.