The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) suspended its dialogue with the government on Friday in protest against the continuing imprisonment of one of its activists arrested earlier this month.
In a statement, the HAK accused Armenia’s governing coalition of reneging on what it said was a pledge to ensure the quick release of the young activist, Tigran Arakelian.
“The existence of political prisoners is making the continuation of the dialogue impossible,” the bloc said, adding that it will be ready to resume talks if Arakelian is set free.
The statement was issued shortly after HAK representatives failed to attend the next meeting with coalition negotiators scheduled for Friday morning.
The chief coalition negotiator, Davit Harutiunian deplored the no-show. “This doesn’t mean that the HAK is dictating conditions, this means that the HAK lacks the political will to properly continue this process,” he told journalists.
Harutiunian also complained that the HAK representatives led by Levon Zurabian did not inform his negotiating team of their decision not to attend the planned seventh round of talks.
According to Zurabian, the decision was taken at the last minute because the HAK hoped up until the planned talks that Arakelian will be released from pre-trial detention.
Arakelian was one of seven members of the HAK’s youth wing who were arrested on August 9 after clashing with police in disputed circumstances. He is facing up to ten years in prison on charges of assaulting police officers.
The six other youths are facing less serious accusations. They have been set free pending investigation.
Speaking after the last meeting with Harutiunian’s delegation held on Tuesday, Zurabian expressed confidence that the jailed activist will be freed very soon. He implied that his five-member delegation received corresponding assurances from the coalition negotiators.
Harutiunian did not confirm that, though, saying only that the Armenian police and courts will “act in a non-discriminatory manner” with regard to Arakelian.
Nevertheless, the HAK statement insisted that Arakelian remains in jail “contrary to mutual understandings and assurances given to us.” It claimed that the authorities are using his arrest as a “pressure lever for clinching political concessions from the Congress.”
“The authorities are demonstrating that they are not prepared to build relations on the basis of trust and are calling into question any possibility of agreement on internal political issues that require much more mutual trust and relate to the fate of the state and the people,” said the statement.
The HAK further dismissed as a “fabrication” the police claims that Arakelian and the other opposition youths verbally and physically abused a police patrol in downtown Yerevan.
Even before suspending the dialogue, the bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian warned that it will launch a campaign of “civil disobedience” if the authorities finally refuse to call early presidential and parliamentary elections before October.
Speaking at a news conference, Zurabian reaffirmed that warning but declined to give any specific dates for the launch of a new opposition offensive. “That gives us some flexibility as to on what day in September that will be done,” he said. “That also gives flexibility to the authorities. So we still have time. They still have time.”