Armenia’s parliament on Tuesday gave a green light for the arrest and prosecution on coup charges of four of its members loyal to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Miasnik Malkhasian, Hakob Hakobian, Sasun Mikaelian and Khachatur Sukiasian will be formally charged under articles of the Criminal Code relating to attempts to seize power and provoke riots for that purpose. The charges stem from Saturday’s deadly clashes between Ter-Petrosian supporters and security forces that followed the forcible break-up of an opposition sit-in in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to lift their colleagues’ immunity from prosecution after a speech by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. He reiterated government allegations that the clashes had been planned by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition in advance.
Hakobian and Malkhasian were detained on Sunday and brought to the parliament session by masked security officers. Both men were allowed to address the National Assembly and deny the accusations. The two other accused deputies appear to have gone into hiding.
Hovsepian told journalists later in the day that law-enforcement authorities are also hunting for several other unspecified Ter-Petrosian allies and trying to make sure that none of them flees the country. He did not exclude that the former president may also be arrested and put on trial. “The investigation is underway and we will make a decision based on its results,” he said.
The coup case was described as baseless and politically motivated by Zharangutyun Party of Raffi Hovannisian, the only opposition group represented in the 131-member National Assembly. Addressing the legislature, Hovannisian said it will only deepen the post-election unrest in the country.
In a written statement, Hovannisian and the six other Zharangutyun parliamentarians condemned the use of lethal force against opposition demonstrators and expressed serious concern about the ensued arrests of opposition activists. “The reports received from the legal defenders of several arrestees allow us to assert that all of Yerevan’s detention halls are full of people who have become the patent victims of police brutality,” they said.
“This situation confirms the public fear that the country’s law enforcement bodies actually do not intend to carry out a fair and unbiased investigation into this and all other tragic events which have taken the lives of Armenian citizens,” added the statement.
(Photolur photo: Malkhasian, left, and Hakobian pictured before the parliament vote