Five leading members of a radical Armenian opposition group were released from custody on Monday almost one month after being arrested on controversial charges stemming from its efforts to topple President Serzh Sarkisian.
Zhirayr Sefilian, the top leader of the Founding Parliament movement, and his four associates were set free after signing a written pledge not to leave Yerevan for the duration of an ongoing investigation into “mass disturbances” allegedly planned by them.
Law-enforcement authorities claim that they plotted to provoke street violence in the capital during the April 24 commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Founding Parliament had scheduled the start of its campaign for regime change in Armenia for that day.
A senior Armenian prosecutor, Vahagn Poghosian, ordered the release of the five oppositionists four days after Human Rights Watch declared that they were jailed because of their “peaceful political beliefs.” In a letter to Prosecutor-General Kostanian, the New York-based group said they must therefore be freed pending investigation.
Later on April 30 Kostanian announced that his office will look into the high-profile criminal case opened by Armenia’s Investigative Committee.
Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday that the Founding Parliament leaders walked free since their “crime” was thwarted by law-enforcement bodies before April 24. He also said the oppositionists, who strongly deny the charges, will not be able to impede the inquiry because investigators have already taken “all necessary investigative measures.”
Sefilian, meanwhile, struck a defiant note as he was greeted by supporters outside Yerevan’s Vartashen prison. “We are continuing our struggle,” he told journalists there. “They may slow down our campaign but they won’t manage to stop it.”
“Sooner or later we will succeed in getting rid of this criminal regime,” added the Lebanese-born activist.
Despite the arrest of its leaders, Founding Parliament rallied supporters in a southern Yerevan suburb on April 24. Only a few hundred people attended that rally, however, leading the opposition group to halt its anti-government campaign for now.
Founding Parliament holds no seats in Armenia’s National Assembly and is very critical of mainstream opposition parties represented in the parliament. It has so far failed to attract large crowds to its rallies held across the country.