Shant Harutiunian, the arrested leader of anti-government protesters who clashed with riot police in Yerevan in November, was hospitalized Thursday on the 16th day of his continuing hunger strike.
Harutiunian has refused food in protest against law-enforcement authorities’ refusal to allow his relatives to visit or have phone conversations with him. Thirteen other men arrested during the clashes have also been held incommunicado without a clear explanation. Two of them went on hunger strike later in December.
Inessa Petrosian, Harutiunian’s lawyer, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the veteran nationalist activist was taken to a prison hospital after a further deterioration of his health condition. Petrosian said her client looked frail and distressed but remained determined to continue the hunger strike when she last visited him in a Yerevan jail on Wednesday.
The lawyer complained that police officials investigating the November 5 violence in the city center have still not responded to Harutiunian’s December letters demanding an explanation for the ban on visits and phone conversations. She called the ban unprecedented, saying that even opposition members arrested following the deadly 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan were allowed to see their loved ones after spending a month in detention. Petrosian said this is a further indication that the criminal case is politically motivated.
Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner highly critical of the Armenian authorities, likewise claimed that Harutiunian and the other detainees are victims of “political persecution.” Sakunts was allowed to visit and talk to Harutiunian on January 6.
However, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian, denied any political motives behind the case. “I can only state that any individual, including Shant Harutiunian, has to be held accountable for his deeds if he is convicted by court,” he told reporters.
Kostanian dismissed calls for the release of the 14 men pending further investigation. He insisted that police investigators have reason to hold them in pre-trial detention but did not elaborate.
Riot police used force against dozens of protesters armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades as the latter tried to march towards the presidential administration building in what Harutiunian called an anti-government “revolution.” The detainees will risk between five and ten years’ imprisonment if convicted on assault charges leveled by the police.