By Hrach Melkumian
More than a thousand female supporters of defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian marched through central Yerevan on Tuesday to condemn the latest wave of arrests of opposition activists.
Carrying umbrellas and pro-Demirchian banners, the protesters braved heavy rain to gather outside the Office of Prosecutor-General and demand an end to the post-election government crackdown on the opposition.
“There are illegal repressions and arrests going on in Armenia right now,” said Anahit Bakhshian, one of the organizers of the unsanctioned protest. “The ruling regime is using violence and terror to prolong its days in power.”
It was the latest in a series of opposition demonstrations against the official results of the March 5 presidential run-off which gave victory to incumbent President Robert Kocharian. The arrests have given opposition parties grouped around Demirchian a new cause to rally their supporters.
According to Dustrik Mkhitarian, a senior activist at Demirchian’s campaign headquarters, the arrests are continuing and the number of people fined or jailed for their participation in the opposition gatherings since March 17 has reached 103. “There are also people still unaccounted for,” she told RFE/RL. “Their families don’t know their whereabouts.”
According to the Justice Ministry, there were at least 40 opposition supporters sentenced to between 3 and 15 days in prison as of last Friday. Ministry officials said they were jailed for “disrupting public order” and disobeying police orders.
But with all trials held behind the closed doors, the authorities have not yet offered any proof of the charges. No violent incidents have so far been reported during the opposition rallies.
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s rally was a 70-year-old woman who was detained last week and claims to have been offered money in exchange for cooperating with the police. “They said, ‘Let’s work together’. I guess they offered me the post of deputy police chief,” she said mockingly.
Also addressing the crowd was Greta Sarkisian, the mother of opposition leader Aram Sarkisian and the assassinated Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. She announced that she is ending her daily sit-in protests outside President Robert Kocharian’s official residence against the recent arrest of her third son on murder charges.
The man, Armen Sarkisian, is accused of ordering the killing last December of Tigran Naghdalian, the pro-Kocharian head of Armenia’s state television and radio. Sarkisian and his opposition-backed family deny the charges, saying that they are politically motivated.
However, state prosecutors insist that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute him.