An opposition activist has been arrested and remanded in pre-trial custody after he and several other members of a radical group seeking to topple Armenia’s government clashed with riot police on New Year’s Eve.
The police used force against the New Armenia Public Salvation Front activists as they attempted to place a Christmas tree in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, the scene of anti-government rallies staged by the group in December. Five of them were detained as a result.
All of the activists except Safarian were set free in the following hours. The outspoken oppositionist was charged with resistance to law-enforcement bodies before a Yerevan court allowed the police to keep him under pre-trial arrest for two months on Sunday.
Safarian stands accused of assaulting and injuring a police officer, Gegham Khachatrian. He strongly denies the accusation carrying up to five years’ imprisonment. Safarian’s lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, insisted that it was Khachatrian who attacked his client during the incident.
Other participants of the aborted protest also accused the riot police of violence when they rallied outside the police headquarters in Yerevan to condemn Safarian’s prosecution.
They protested outside Khachatrian’s home later on Sunday. Five of them were detained there and released from police custody shortly afterwards.
The policeman in question has been unrepentant about his actions on New Year’s Eve and incriminating testimony against Safarian. In a Facebook post, Khachatrian said that he and his colleagues “maintained law and order against monkeys loitering in the square.”
Safarian and four other New Armenia leaders already spent a month in detention this spring ahead of demonstrations supposedly aimed forcing President Serzh Sarkisian to resign. Safarian claimed to have been ill-treated by other inmates at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison at the time. According to Hayrapetian, the oppositionist went on hunger strike immediately after Sunday’s court hearing to demand that he be kept in a separate prison cell at Nubarashen.
New Armenia launched on December 6 another campaign of street protests in a fresh attempt to achieve “regime change” in the country. The campaign fizzled out within weeks, with the opposition alliance failing to attract large crowds to Liberty Square.