Representatives of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Thursday that they will proceed with plans to stage a sit-in at Yerevan's Liberty Square to demand the liberation of opposition figures remaining in prison.
The HAK-linked Committee to Protect Political Prisoners last week announced its intention to organize the protest there on Friday and sent a relevant notification to the Yerevan Mayor’s Office. The municipality refused to sanction it, saying the square was already booked for daily children festivals that started on June 10.
The move led the opposition alliance to downscale the protest and thereby qualify for a legal provision whereby government permission is not required for public gatherings attended by up to 100 people.
Davit Matevosian, a senior HAK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Friday’s sit-in will involve only about 30 participants. He said all of them are former political prisoners who had been arrested in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election. Over a dozen HAK leaders and supporters remain imprisoned on charges mostly stemming from the March 2008 violence in Yerevan.
Matevosian described them as government “hostages.” “Our friends remain in jail and we want to protest against that,” he said, adding that any police attempt to prevent the protesters from entering the recently renovated square would violate an Armenian law on rallies and demonstrations.
Colonel Sayad Shirinian, a spokesman for the Armenian police, declined to say whether the police will try to prevent the sit-in. “If there are instances of disruption of public order, it is our holy duty to intervene,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “So naturally, we will be very determined to immediately stop such violations.”
Asked what the police will do if the protesters act peacefully, Shirinian said, “The situation itself will dictate what measures we should take.”
The square had served as the main venue for political gatherings in Armenia until it was closed in mid-2008 due to the construction of a large underground parking garage. Small groups of HAK activists attempted to gather there for several consecutive days immediately after it was reopened to the public last month.