By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
One of the three opposition parliamentarians arrested following Armenia’s post-election unrest was transferred to a prison hospital in Yerevan on Wednesday after repeatedly complaining about his health condition.
Miasnik Malkhasian is the third arrested opposition leader who needed hospitalization while being in custody. The two others, Ararat Zurabian and Aram Karapetian, were eventually released from pre-trial detention after being diagnosed with heart disease. Karapetian was even allowed to leave Armenia for Russia and continue his treatment there last May.
“He is being examined right now, and the examination results will tell whether he should stay there or be taken to a civilian hospital,” Malkhasian’s lawyer, Melania Arustamian, told RFE/RL. She said blood tests conducted in a Yerevan prison where Malkhasian has been kept since March 2 suggested that he may be suffering from diabetes.
Law-enforcement bodies investigating the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and security force agreed to allow Malkhasian to undergo medical examination amid growing calls for his release voiced by fellow opposition parliamentarians deputies and the state human rights ombudsman. Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has also received a relevant petition from Artsvik Minasian, a parliament deputy affiliated with the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Minasian is also a member of an parliamentary commission conducting a parallel inquiry into the clashes that left at least ten people dead. During a commission meeting last week, he challenged Vahagn Harutiunian, a senior law-enforcement official leading the official criminal investigation, to substantiate the coup accusations leveled against his opposition colleague. He was dissatisfied by Harutiunian’s explanation.
Harutiunian’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) claims that Malkhasian not only plotted to “usurp” power along with dozens of other opposition figures but also organized and participated in the March 1 “mass disturbances.” The accusations, strongly denied by Malkhasian, are based on incriminating testimony given by several other men arrested near the scene of the violence early on March 2.
One of those men, Gagik Avdalian, claims that they incriminated the opposition leader under duress before being released from the headquarters of a special police unit the next morning. “They beat us so badly that at one point I lost my consciousness,” Avdalian told RFE/RL on Wednesday. “A middle-aged bespectacled investigator [from the SIS] there said, ‘If you don’t sign all these papers you’ll stay here and they’ll beat you until you turn into steak,’” he said.
The 27-year-old claims to have been in hiding for fear of further violence since then. In a recent letter to Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian, he pleaded for protection and said Armenian courts should ignore his false testimony given against Malkhasian and other oppositionists.
Harutiunian responded by asking the chiefs of the SIS and the Armenian police to investigate the allegations. He said he has also received similar complaints from other citizens allegedly tortured and intimidated by law-enforcement officials.
Speaking to RFE/RL on Tuesday, the SIS’s Vahagn Harutiunian effectively dismissed Avdalian’s allegations but said the investigators are nonetheless ready to look into them if the young man elaborates on them. He said Avdalian has already been summoned to the SIS for interrogation.
“Let Vahagn Harutiunian and the human rights defender guarantee my security, and I’ll go there and say what I’ve just told you,” Avdalian said, responding to the SIS official’s comments.
Both Harutiunian and the ombudsman told RFE/RL that they can give such guarantees.
(Photolur photo: Malkhasian talks to opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian during a late February rally in Yerevan.)