The Armenian police have finally allowed relatives of 14 anti-government protesters arrested during the November 5 clashes with security forces in Yerevan to visit them in pre-trial custody.
Police investigators banned such visits on the grounds that they could obstruct the ongoing criminal investigation into the violence that left several policemen injured. The decision has been strongly criticized by human rights activists and lawyers for the arrested men.
Shant Harutiunian, a veteran nationalist activist who organized the November 5 protest, and two other detainees went on hunger strike late last month to protest against the ban. Harutiunian ended the hunger strike last Friday, the day after being transferred to a prison hospital in Yerevan due to health complications.
Harutiunian’s wife, Ruzan Badalian, and son Shahen rushed to see him after a police official informed them about the lifting of the ban. “It came as a surprise for us,” Badalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone on her way to the hospital.
“I don’t know why the ban was lifted. Probably as a result of our struggle,” she said.
Harutiunian and several dozen other men armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades were confronted by riot police as they attempted to march to the presidential palace in Yerevan in what they called an attempt to topple the government. The detained protesters will face between 5 and 10 years in prison if convicted of violence against law-enforcement officials.
Mainstream opposition politicians and civic activists have demanded that the authorities release them pending a court ruling on the case. Hundreds of mostly young people demonstrated in Yerevan for that purpose last week.