A court in Yerevan has extended the pre-trial custody of a young opposition activist charged with hooliganism after an incident involving police officers.
Tigran Arakelian, 28, was detained on July 5 and faces up to five years in prison after being charged with assaulting a police officer.
Arakelian has insisted that it was he and other young activists who were confronted by a group of plainclothes police officers in downtown Yerevan on July 1 while they were publicizing a rally held by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) the next day. Arakelian and two teenage HAK supporters were injured in the incident and required hospitalization. They said they had been punched, kicked and even pistol-whipped for informing Yerevan residents about the rally.
The Armenian police came up with a different version of the events, saying that law-enforcement officers themselves came under attack when they tried to stop a brawl involving dozens of youths. Three of them sustained injuries as a result, according to the police.
The decision to extend Arakelian’s pre-trial detention for another two months was made in a closed-door court proceeding on Monday.
Arakelian’s defense attorney Vartuhi Elbakian called the court’s decision ‘ungrounded’. She, in particular, derided the court’s argument that Arakelian could obstruct investigation if released pending his trial.
Elbakian told RFE/RL that the body investigating the case plans to level a graver charge at her client, i.e. using violence against a representative of the authorities, which is punishable in Armenia by between five to ten years in prison.
Arakelian, who is currently in prison hospital, continues to complain of deteriorating eyesight and headaches, which he insists is the result of the head injuries inflicted on him by police. He categorically denies that the injuries confirmed by prison doctors were received while he was already in custody.
In a statement released on Monday, Arakelian threatened to refuse to take medication and to go on an open-ended hunger strike unless he is released or a ‘well-grounded’ charge is brought against him by September 6.
Armenia’s main opposition group has all along condemned Arakelian’s arrest and insisted that the violent incident was orchestrated by the police.