Shant Harutiunian ended a more than two-week hunger strike on Friday amid fresh street protests by his supporters demanding the immediate release of the opposition activist and 13 other men arrested during last November’s clashes with riot police.
Harutiunian communicated his decision to his lawyer Inessa Petrosian when she visited him at a prison hospital in Yerevan, where was taken on Thursday following a deterioration of his health condition.
“He looked very pale and was due to undergo more medical procedures,” Petrosian told journalists. “He was very unhappy with his transfer because he found himself in very inhuman conditions.”
Harutiunian began the hunger strike on December 24 to demand that police investigators allow him and the other detainees to meet their relatives in custody or talk to them by phone. Two of those men, Liparit Petrosian and Vahe Mkrtchian, began refusing food two days later. According to officials at a Justice Ministry department managing Armenia’s prisons and detention centers, both men are continuing their hunger strike.
The investigators remain adamant in rejecting their demands. They have still not explained reasons for the ban on visits and phone conversations, which has been condemned by human rights activists.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people again rallied in central Yerevan on Friday to demand that all 14 men charged with assaulting police officers be freed at least until a court verdict in their case. They were joined by Zharangutyun leader Raffi Hovannisian, the main opposition candidate in last year’s presidential election. Hovannisian described the arrested men as political prisoners.
The crowd jeered and taunted Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian as it ran into him outside the Prime Minister’s Office in the Armenian capital. “Shame on you,” Tovmasian shouted at one of the angry protesters.
Speaking to journalists at the scene, Tovmasian rejected the protesters’ demands and denied any political motives behind the case. He claimed that law-enforcement and judicial bodies dealing with the case have not been acting on government orders.