The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) condemned their arrest and possible prosecution as politically motivated.
Ani Gevorgian, a correspondent for the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak,” her brother Sargis and another opposition activist, Davit Kiramijian, were among at least 15 people detained during Monday’s clashes between several dozen HAK supporters and riot police. The latter used force to prevent the oppositionists from entering the newly renovated Liberty Square, the main venue for political gatherings held in Armenia since the late 1980s.
All detainees except the three young people were released from police custody several hours later. In a written statement, the Armenian police defended the use of force, saying that the HAK “violated public order,” swore at police officers and caused them “injuries dangerous for health” while attempting to enter the square.
The statement claimed that Sargis Gevorgian and Kiramijian hit a police sergeant and tore off his epaulettes during the incident. It gave no reasons for Ani Gevorgian’s arrest.
According to the detainees’ lawyers, the 22-year-old journalist may be charged with assaulting “a state representative performing their duties,” while the two young are risking prosecution under another article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with “hooliganism.” Both accusations carry heavy fines and prison sentences of up to five years.
Under Armenian law, the police have 72 hours to formally charge arrested suspects or set them free.
Lusine Sahakian, one of the defense lawyers, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that none of the three detainees agreed to give testimony or sign any statements in police custody “because they were detained illegally.” “All three of them were subjected to violence and suffered injuries,” she said.
“The number of political prisoners in Armenia has increased from 14 to 17,” Levon Zurabian, a leader of the HAK, declared at a news conference on Tuesday. “The police have been turned into a gang of criminals that instead of maintaining public order, has become a kind of the guardian of the oligarchic regime,” he charged.
“We can see that the authorities are ready to discredit themselves, weaken Armenia’s positions ahead of the upcoming meeting of the [PACE] Monitoring Committee and pay quite a serious price for preventing any political activity in Liberty Square,” he said. “For them, [blocking] Liberty Square is like the battle of Stalingrad.”
Zurabian also denounced Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, for pointedly declining to criticize the police actions against small groups of HAK supporters trying to gather in Liberty Square since its reopening on Friday.
Zurabian claimed that the ombudsman thereby gave his “blessing” to the police actions later in the day.
Meanwhile, Liberty Square remained off-limits to members and supporters of Armenia’s largest opposition force on Tuesday, with police officers guarding all approaches to the plaza surrounded by numerous outdoor cafes. They turned away some 20 HAK activists led by a senior member of the bloc, Vladimir Karapetian. There was no violence this time around.
Colonel Robert Melkonian, the chief of the national riot police force, told Karapetian that they can not enter the square because they are intent on disrupting “public order” there.