Zhirayr Sefilian, a hardline opposition figure, accused the Armenian authorities of trying to intimidate opponents of their controversial constitutional reform after being summoned to a law-enforcement agency for questioning on Wednesday.
Sefilian, who leads the Founding Parliament opposition movement, spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after spending about 90 minutes at the headquarters of the Investigative Committee. He said he refused to answer any questions asked by committee officials.
“I directly link that with my current political activities,” added the Lebanese-born prominent veteran of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
Sefilian pointed to the recent formation of an alliance of radical opposition groups, including Founding Parliament, campaigning against constitutional changes sought by President Serzh Sarkisian. He said the authorities are now responding with “political persecution.”
The alliance called the New Amenia Public Salvation Front plans to launch a nationwide campaign of “civil disobedience” on December 1, five days before a referendum on those changes. Its leaders, among them Zharangutyun Party Chairman Raffi Hovannisian, say the campaign will be aimed at scuttling the conduct of the referendum and forcing Sarkisian to step down.
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, insisted that Sefilian was questioned only in connection with a criminal case that was opened against him and four other Founding Parliament leaders earlier this year. They were arrested in April and charged with plotting to use the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey to provoke “mass disturbances” in Yerevan.
The oppositionists strongly denied the charges before being released from custody almost one month later. They have still not been formally cleared of the charges.
Sefilian suggested that the authorities decided to revive the controversial probe because of the upcoming referendum. “They asked ludicrous questions,” he said of his interrogation.
Vahram Baghdasarian, a leading member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied any political motives behind Sefilian’s questioning. “The Investigative Committee is simply doing its job,” he said.
Anti-government rallies held by Founding Parliament and its allies have not attracted large crowds so far.