By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian police on Tuesday formally charged two newspaper editors and three other opposition activists who were detained last week while urging Yerevan residents to attend former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s landmark rally.
The activists were summoned to the police department of Yerevan’s central Kentron district for questioning. Only one of them, Shogher Matevosian of the pro-opposition “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun’ newspaper, promptly went there to find out that she has been charged with assaulting a policeman during the incident.
Matevosian was among several dozen Ter-Petrosian loyalists who marched through the city center on October 23 to publicize Friday’s rally. Eleven of them, including another newspaper editor, were detained on the spot after defying police orders to stop the action. They were released the next morning after overnight negotiations between Ter-Petrosian and senior police officers.
The oppositionists, most of them leaders of the radical Aylentrank (Alternative) movement, say that the march was sanctioned by municipal authorities and that the police actions were therefore illegal. The police claim, however, that the marchers interfered with car traffic and disrupted public order by littering the streets with leaflets and disturbing residents. They also say that several police officers were injured by demonstrators.
According to Matevosian’s lawyer Hovik Arsenian, the outspoken editor is accused of hitting and injuring a police sergeant with a flag. Arsenian said she refused to answer any questions from the police investigators and will plead not guilty to the charge.
Matevosian had told RFE/RL after her release from custody that she only tried to stop riot police beating a “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” journalist covering the demonstration. The journalist, Gohar Vezirian, says she was repeatedly hit by an unknown plainclothes man. She was examined by forensic doctors on Saturday after complaining of recurring headaches.
“For the second day running I am summoned [to the police station] as a witness and give detailed testimony on the incident,” said Vezirian.
Also receiving police summonses and facing prosecution were Aylentrank leaders Nikol Pashinian and Petros Makeyan as well as the latter’s two sons. None of them immediately showed up for questioning on Tuesday, however.
Makeyan was forcibly taken to the police station late in the evening. One of his sons, Tigran, suffered concussion during the October 23 incident and was hospitalized on Monday with reported fluctuations of blood pressure.
Police officers also visited the Yerevan apartment of Pashinian but did not find him there. Pashinian, who is also the editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, told RFE/RL that he phoned them and promised to come to their office later in the evening.
According to the four oppositionists’ lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, the police have already prepared an assault and “hooliganism” case against his clients. “I was informed today that the decision to level criminal accusations against them has been made,” Ter-Yesayan told RFE/RL. “It’s just that those individuals have to show up in order to familiarize themselves with the essence of the accusations.”
In Arsenian’s words, all of the oppositionists have decided not to give any testimony during the investigation and to speak up instead during their trial in order to “prove that the accusations are trumped-up.”
Pashinian claimed that the investigation can already be considered deeply flawed and biased. “The fact is that law-enforcement bodies know that we have video and audio [of the incident,]” he said. “Not only are they not demanding it but are doing everything to ignore it.”
Ter-Petrosian and his allies claim that the arrests and ensued criminal inquiry are part of “repressions” unleashed by the administration of President Robert Kocharian in retaliation for the ex-president’s decision to contest the upcoming presidential election. They say the crackdown exposes government fears that Ter-Petrosian will mount a serious challenge against Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian’s preferred successor.
The Armenian authorities deny this. Kocharian insisted last week that Ter-Petrosian will not be the main opposition presidential candidate.
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian supporters rally in Yerevan on Friday.)