The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Monday that it will decide within the next 24 hours whether to continue its dialogue with Armenia’s governing coalition if not all of its seven activists arrested last week are set free.
The alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian reaffirmed its threat to refuse further negotiations with the authorities after three of the detainees were remanded in two-month pre-trial custody on Friday night.
The young men were formally charged with assaulting police officers on August 9 before appearing before a Yerevan court. One of them, Tigran Arakelian, a leader of the HAK’s youth wing, is prosecuted on three counts of hooliganism and assault.
The four other opposition youths were released from the courtroom. One of them, Vahagn Gevorgian, was also charged with committing hooligan acts. But the court refused to allow his pre-trial arrest sought by the police.
HAK spokesman Arman Musinian described the remaining detainees as political prisoners. “For three years the existence of political prisoners was the main factor that hampered dialogue [between the government and opposition,] and so in this case it’s also an extremely serious obstacle,” he told a news conference.
Asked whether the next meeting of HAK and government representatives will go ahead as planned on Tuesday morning, Musinian said, “Depending on what the status of the [detained] guys will be by the start of the next round of the dialogue, we will make a corresponding decision.”
“We too have time. We are in active discussions right now and you will have clarity on this issue tomorrow,” he added.
President Serzh Sarkisian paved the way for the current dialogue in May by ensuring the release of all HAK members who were arrested following the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan and remained in jail.
Levon Zurabian, the chief HAK negotiator, spoke late Friday of a “new political situation” created by the latest opposition arrest. “We will discuss [that situation] and make our decision,” he told several dozen opposition supporters demonstrating outside the court.
Another senior HAK figure, Nikol Pashinian, called the arrested youths “hostages” and accused the Armenian government of seeking to disrupt the dialogue.
The police insist that the seven men were arrested after insulting and attacking a police patrol after it “reprimanded” another passerby. The detainees say, however, that they simply tried to stop the officers arbitrarily searching the passerby and were beaten up as a result.