The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) chose to continue to negotiate with the government on Tuesday despite its threats to halt the dialogue because of the arrest and prosecution of several HAK activists.
Representatives of the HAK and Armenia’s governing coalition held their fifth round of negotiations which they said focused on the August 9 violent incident in Yerevan that led to the arrest of seven young members of the opposition alliance.
Four of them were set free late last week. But the three others were remanded in pre-trial detention on charges of assaulting police officers patrolling streets of Yerevan.
In a joint statement read out by Levon Zurabian, the chief HAK negotiator, after the two-hour meeting, the two sides said they discussed the matter and “tentatively” agreed to continue that discussion at their next talks scheduled for Friday.
“We also agreed to refrain from commenting on details of our discussion of the incident for now,” said the statement.
Zurabian refused to answer questions from journalists, saying that is also part of the agreement reached by the parties.
HAK spokesman Arman Musinian on Monday described the continuing detention of the three HAK activists as an “extremely serious obstacle” to further talks between the two sides. He said the opposition bloc could pull out of the dialogue if the activists are not set free by Tuesday morning.
According to Hakob Badalian, a media columnist and political commentator, the decision to continue the dialogue heralds a major shift in the HAK’s stance. He argued that the opposition bloc has previously refused to engage in direct contacts with the government before the release of all individuals regarded by it as political prisoners.
“In effect, the Congress is really retreating from its earlier stance … There are again political prisoners in Armenia but the Congress continues to negotiate,” Badalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Badalian claimed that the HAK is also backtracking on its repeated assurances that the dialogue will be transparent. “The meetings seem to be entering some closed cycle that effectively contradicts the statements about open dialogue that were made by the HAK,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Armenian police brought criminal charges against three of the four freed oppositionists. They carry up to five years’ imprisonment.
The most serious accusations have been leveled against Tigran Arakelian, one of the three HAK activists remaining in jail. Arakelian will face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Lawyers for the three detainees have asked Armenia’s Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling that allowed the police to keep their clients under arrest for up to two months.
The oppositionists backed by the HAK leadership say they were beaten up and arrested after trying to stop a police patrol arbitrarily searching another young man in downtown Yerevan. The police insist, however, that the seven men were arrested for insulting and attacking the policemen.
Davit Harutiunian, who heads the ruling coalition’s negotiating team, said last week that he is inclined to trust in the police version of events. He stood by this statement on Tuesday.
Harutiunian also told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that his delegation has prepared a 130-page written response to HAK demands for the conduct of early elections. But he said it was not discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.
The HAK representatives sought to substantiate those demands with an 85-page document that was submitted at their previous meeting with the coalition negotiators held on August 9, just hours before the Yerevan incident.