Nine activists of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) were detained by police in downtown Yerevan early on Monday while trying to draw graffiti that branded President Serzh Sarkisian a “national traitor.”
The young activists planned to spray walls in the city center with pictures of Sarkisian accompanied by the damning inscription ahead of an upcoming HAK rally. They were taken into police custody shortly after midnight and released three hours later.
A spokesman for the national police, Armen Malkhasian, said that the thwarted action constituted a breach of public order. The young people will be fined between 20,000 and 60,000 drams ($50-$150) if they are convicted by Armenia’s Administrative Court under corresponding articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
The freed activists suggested that the police had wire-tapped their phones to have prior knowledge of the overnight action. “The most interesting thing is that they knew in advance our itinerary. They knew [during the arrests] that we had agreed to meet at the HAK headquarters 20 minutes ago,” one of them, Davit Vartanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Vartanian and another young anti-government campaigner, Sargis Gevorgian, said the purpose of the graffiti was to underline the need for Sarkisian’s resignation as part of unfolding preparations for the HAK demonstration slated for March 1. “Serzh Sarkisian and his regime must go,” said Gevorgian.
The opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian plans to rally supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on the 8th anniversary of deadly unrest that followed a disputed presidential election. Some Ter-Petrosian supporters expect the HAK leader to announce the start of a new campaign of street protests aimed at bringing down Sarkisian.
Ter-Petrosian, who turned 69 on January 9, was the main opposition candidate in the 2008 election. Citing his age, he decided not to run in the next presidential ballot held in February 2013. The ex-president and his party have refrained from holding major anti-government rallies over the past year.