A parliamentary opposition party has decided not to field its candidates in upcoming local elections in Armenia because of the arrests and prosecution of its three leading members that it claims are ungrounded.
Deputy head of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party Armen Martirosian, the party’s press secretary David Sanasarian and civic society relations officer Hovsep Khurshudian along with another opposition activist, Andrias Ghukasian, were remanded in prison earlier this month after being arrested on charges of organizing mass disturbances during public protests on July 29.
The three men participated in a rally in support of a group of gunmen loyal to a fringe opposition movement who had seized a police station in Yerevan and were making political demands to the country’s authorities last month.
Armenia - Riot police disperse protesters in Yerevan's Sari Tagh neighborhood, 29Jul2016.
The rally took a violent turn as riot police and plainclothes men charged at protesters and journalists, using stun grenades, flash bangs, sound bombs and other nonlethal devices to disperse the demonstration in a narrow street of a Yerevan neighborhood overlooking the standoff area.
Nearly 70 people, including some journalists, were hurt in the clashes that prosecutors say were provoked by demonstrators. Martirosian, who conducted negotiations with senior police officers shortly before the dispersal, as well as the other oppositionists deny the charges largely based on testimonies of police officers. Martirosian’s lawyer Givi Hovhannisian, in particular, said on August 3 that in deciding on the arrest of his client the court had refused to consider as evidence the video recordings showing the opposition politician calling on the demonstrators to avoid clashes with police.
The lawyers of all three men who face lengthy jail terms claim there are no legal grounds for their prosecution, insisting that their clients are victims of political persecution.
In a statement released on Tuesday Zharangutyun said that given the fact that the three leading members of the party are imprisoned on “fabricated charges”, it had decided not to take part in elections to local government bodies that are due to be held in all provinces of Armenia (except for capital Yerevan) in September and October. The upcoming local elections will also include municipal votes in Gyumri and Vanadzor, Armenia’s second and third largest cities, which, in accordance with the new electoral code, will for the first time elect mayors indirectly, based on the outcomes of elections to municipal assemblies conducted under party lists.
“On the one hand, our representatives are exemplary citizens who, exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and participating in peaceful demonstrations, in fact, formed a wall between the police and their peaceful fellow citizens. On the other hand, violence and reprisals were used against them during their detentions and now these members of our party faces 4 to 10 years in prison,” said Zharangutyun, without ruling out, however, support for other candidates in the elections “who have not yet been subjected to violence by the State.”
In the past Zharangutyun and other opposition parties often avoided participation in local elections claiming that candidates affiliated with or supported by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia extensively use administrative resources and vote-buying schemes that preclude a fair outcome of elections.