Several dozen young supporters of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) marched to the Office of the Prosecutor-General in Yerevan on Friday to demand the release of a fellow activist who was arrested after distributing opposition leaflets last month.
HAK Levon Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, continued to visit the families of his other, more prominent loyalists remaining in jail more than 17 months after Armenia’s last disputed presidential election.
“I’m here today because the authorities have arrested Tigran Arakelian illegally,” one of the HAK activists protesting outside the prosecutors’ headquarters told RFE/RL. “There is no truth to the accusations brought against him.”
Arakelian, 28, and other opposition youths were confronted by a group of plainclothes police officers in the city center on July 1as they publicized a rally held by the HAK the next day. Arakelian and two teenage HAK supporters were injured in the incident and required hospitalization. They said they were punched, kicked and even pistol-whipped for informing Yerevan residents about the rally.
The Armenian police came up with a different version of events, saying that law-enforcement officers themselves came under attack when they tried to stop a brawl involving 60 youths. Three officers sustained injuries as a result, according to the police. Arakelian was subsequently arrested and charged with assault. The charge carries up to five years’ imprisonment.
Arakelian was taken to a prison hospital on July 15 after complaining of heart, vision and balance problems. A Yerevan court has rejected his lawyer Vartuhi Elbakian’s request to release him on bail. “In my view, these are serious disorders that need a thorough examination at a civilian hospital,” Elbakian insisted on Friday.
The protesters delivered to Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian a petition demanding the oppositionist’s release as well as video of the July 1 incident which they said proves that it is the policemen that must be prosecuted for the violence.
Also protesting outside Hovsepian’s office was a group of other opposition supporters who demanded the immediate liberation of some two dozen Ter-Petrosian loyalists arrested following the February 2008 election. The relatives of two of those oppositionists living in the northwestern Shirak region were visited by Ter-Petrosian later in the day as part of his nationwide tour that began on Tuesday.
“These are just visits to the relatives of our comrades who are still in prison,” Ter-Petrosian told journalists in the town of Maralik. “One should not look for any political purpose here. This is our friendly obligation.”
Ter-Petrosian said he also wants to reassure HAK supporters across Armenia that his opposition alliance “will not stop its struggle for a single moment as long as there is one political prisoner remaining in jail.” “We will carry on till the end,” he said.
The HAK leader spoke after visiting the Maralik house of Harutiun Urutian, one of his election campaign coordinators in Shirak who was sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly assaulting a government loyalist during the presidential ballot. “I’m in despair because everyone was granted amnesty but my son wasn’t,” Urutian’s 81-year-old mother Yevgine told RFE/RL. “Murderers walk freely, while my son is in prison.”
Ter-Petrosian also visited the nearby village of Dzorakap. Its most prominent native, Mushegh Saghatelian, also played a major role in the Ter-Petrosian campaign. He is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly clashing with riot police on March 1, 2008.
“I consider this visit a gesture of solidarity,” Saghatelian’s son Sevak said. “I can feel that we are not alone in this struggle.”