By Astghik BedevianA prominent opposition figure arrested in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election was released on Thursday night pending investigation into his involvement in anti-government demonstrations organized by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Suren Sureniants, a senior member of the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, was among more than 100 Ter-Petrosian supporters jailed as part of the ongoing government crackdown on the opposition. Accusations leveled against them mostly stem from the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters.
Although Sureniants was taken into custody four days before those clashes, he too was charged with attempting to seize power and organizing “mass riots” in addition to being accused of actively participating in Ter-Petrosian’s peaceful but unsanctioned post-election rallies. None of these accusations have been dropped by prosecutors leading the official investigation into what the Armenian authorities call an opposition attempt to stage a coup d’etat.
The investigators refused to release Sureniants pre-trial detention despite his two-week hunger strike in Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison earlier this month. They relented only after receiving a written petition signed by several mostly pro-government members of Armenia’s parliament.
Speaking to RFE/RL on Friday, the Hanrapetutyun activist rejected as politically motivated the accusations brought against him and other jailed oppositionists, among them three parliament deputies and other key members of Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign team. “Either we will become a rogue state like Belarus … , or will have to accept the [European] rules of the game and become part of the European family,” he said. “Those people who were arrested for political reasons must be set free.”
Their release has also been demanded by the international community. The authorities insist, however, that there are no political prisoners in Armenia. Zhanna Kotikian, a senior official at the Office of the Prosecutor-General, stood by this assertion as she spoke to several dozen wives of arrested oppositionists and other female supporters of Ter-Petrosian who picketed the law-enforcement agency on Friday. The protesters handed her a petition, signed by thousands of citizens, demanding the immediate release of the detainees and an end to the “political persecutions.”
“Please tell the prosecutor-general what we will fight for every political prisoner,” one of them told Kotikian. “We will bring you such petitions every Friday.”
“The Office of the Prosecutor-General and other investigative bodies are working within the framework of law,” replied the law-enforcement official. “It is not your noisy gatherings that will contribute to an objective solution to the matter.”
Incidentally, Sureniants’s wife Lusine was also among the protesting women. “As long as there are so many women waiting for the return of their husbands, just as I have waited, we have no right to sit at home and wait and see what happens next,” she told RFE/RL. “I want to express my solidarity with them.”