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The lawyer for Gevorg Safarian, an Armenian opposition activist prosecuted on what human rights groups consider politically motivated charges, claimed on Thursday that he has been assaulted in prison.

“We are talking about not only psychological pressure and threats but also violence as serious as torture,” Tigran Hayrapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) shortly after visiting Safarian at Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison.

Hayrapetian declined to clarify whether his client was subjected to violence by prison guards or other inmates.

Safarian has claimed to be bullied and threatened by “criminal elements” serving prison sentences there ever since he was transferred to Nubarashen following his arrest by riot police on January 1. The activist has staged several hunger strikes to demand that he be kept in solitary confinement.

Hayrapetian claimed on Wednesday that continuing pressure and threats from the “criminal elements” have put Safarian’s life at serious risk. The lawyer said he fears that his client may commit suicide.

A Justice Ministry department overseeing Armenia’s prisons denied those claims on Thursday morning. “His life and health is not at risk, and he does not complain about prison conditions and his cellmates,” a department official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Safarian was among five members of the New Armenia Public Salvation Front who were detained on New Year’s night after riot police forcibly prevented them and other activists from placing a Christmas tree in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, the scene of anti-government protests staged by the radical opposition movement. All of them except Safarian were set free hours later.

Safarian was charged with assaulting a police officer and placed under pre-trial arrest. The charges, rejected by New Armenia as baseless and politically motivated, carry up to five years in prison.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded Safarian’s immediate release on January 9, saying that he is prosecuted for his political views.

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