The Armenian police have moved to impose punitive fines on some of at least 110 anti-government protesters who were arrested in Yerevan in December during a demonstration against Russia’s visiting President Vladimir Putin.
The detainees were among hundreds of mostly young people who marched through the city center in protest against Armenia’s membership of a Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states. They clashed with scores of riot police that were deployed to stop the crowd from approaching President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration building. Sarkisian and Putin held talks there several hours later.
The police defended the mass arrests, saying that the protesters interfered with traffic and engaged in other “manifestations of illegal conduct.”
All of the detained individuals were released from police custody by next morning. Some are now receiving written notices informing them that the police have asked Armenia’s Administrative Court to fine them 50,000 drams ($120) each violating a law on public gatherings.
Hrayr Manukian, one of the organizers of the December 2 protest, scoffed at the police action on Monday. Manukian said he and other anti-Putin protesters facing the fines are planning to jointly file countersuits against the police for their “illegal actions.”
“The rally was not illegal,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I personally had informed the authorities about it at a short notice.”
Other affected protesters claimed that they heard no clear explanations for their detention at police stations in Yerevan. “I kept asking police officers why they brought me there,” one of them said. “But they kept saying that I’ll learn later on. But I never did.”
The December 2 demonstration attended by around 1,000 people marked the biggest expression of public protest against President Sarkisian’s controversial decision to make Armenia part of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Its participants rejected government assurances that membership in the union poses no threat to Armenia’s independence and is vital for its national security.