More than a hundred people demonstrated outside Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General on Tuesday to condemn prison sentences in the trial of four young opposition activists who clashed with police last year.
A Yerevan court sentenced them to between two and six years in prison on Friday on what the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and other opposition groups consider politically motivated charges.
The longest jail term was given to Tigran Arakelian, a leader of the HAK’s youth wing who the Armenian police say played a key role in an August 2011 incident in downtown Yerevan. Arakelian and several other HAK activists clashed with police officers in disputed circumstances.
All of the activists except Arakelian were set free pending investigation in the following days. One of them, Artak Karapetian, was sentenced to three years, while two others, Sarkis Gevorgian and Davit Kiramijian, were jailed for two years on Friday. The three men will go to jail if the prison sentences are upheld by higher courts.
They were in the crowd that rallied outside the prosecutors’ headquarters in Yerevan. The demonstrators, most of them HAK members and supporters, demanded that the prosecutors drop the controversial criminal case and free Arakelian.
“That verdict is directed against each of us,” Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken HAK leader, told the crowd. “One year ago we said that there are no more political prisoners in Armenia. Now we can say that there are political prisoners.”
“We are ready to go to prison at any moment. Imprisonment is not the kind of threat with which you can stop us fighting,” Pashinian said, appealing to the Armenian authorities.
The authorities deny any political motives behind the case.
Levon Zurabian, another senior HAK figure, suggested that Kiramijian, Karapetian and Gevorgian were not sent to prison immediately after the trial because the Armenian government may be seeking concessions from the opposition. “Maybe this is a proposal for the opposition to behave itself or opt for some negotiations,” Zurabian said. “They want to start hostage trading.”