By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A group of women supporting jailed oppositionists picketed the Council of Europe’s Yerevan office in the afternoon as the Strasbourg-based organization’s Parliamentary Assembly was to start its spring session Monday with the discussion on Armenia featuring on its agenda.
Melissa Brown, the wife of jailed former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian, was among the active protesters as she held a small banner reading “My Husband is a Political Prisoner” in English with her hands shackled in toy handcuffs.
A few dozen protesters behind held a larger banner saying “Freedom to Political Prisoners” in Armenian as well as images of several opposition leaders who were arrested on coup charges in the wake of the March 1 unrest and are currently in custody awaiting trials.
As the women protested, police stood by not far away, with no amassing of passers-by reported.
Brown told RFE/RL that they did not expect any reception from the Council of Europe’s office. She added that earlier they had sent a letter signed by thousands to the Council of Europe raising the issue of political prisoners in Armenia and urging the prestigious pan-European organization to influence Armenia’s authorities in the matter of freedom of speech and assembly.
“We want to show that we, the wives and friends of political prisoners, stand by the Armenian people until Armenia returns to the democratic path,” Brown told RFE/RL.
She said that in their letter to the Council of Europe they also present their expectations of an urgent and independent inquiry into the March 1 events that ‘will reveal all those responsible for the deaths’, express concern over ‘wholesale arrests’ of opposition members, demand that all political prisoners be released and the latest changes moved into the law on assemblies be recognized as undemocratic.
Brown explained that their protest action was not a protest directed against the Council of Europe. “We simply show that democracy in Armenia is in peril,” she said.
Not all of the women attending the demonstration were family or relatives of jailed oppositionists.
Anahit Grigorian, who introduced herself as ‘a free citizen of the Republic of Armenia’, said: “We demand that our political leaders and freedom fighters be released, our rights to stage rallies, marches and demonstrations be restored.”
On April 17, when the PACE is due to hold an urgent debate on democratic institutions in post-election Armenia, the women plan another action near the Council of Europe’s Yerevan office. On the rest of the weekdays, they say, they will stage protests near the embassies of Germany, France and the United States in Yerevan.