Four Armenian opposition activists were detained on Tuesday after clashing with police during an anti-government protest in Yerevan. All of them were set free several hours later.
The young activists were among about a dozen members of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) that picketed a Yerevan hotel at the start of a seminar organized there by the European Union.
The two-day seminar is discussing further judicial reforms planned by the Armenian authorities. The HAK used the occasion to renew its demands for the immediate release of more than a dozen opposition loyalists remaining in Armenian prisons.
Scuffles broke out after the protesters defied police warnings to stand farther away from the building, behind metal barriers put by riot police. The latter faced resistance as they pushed the tiny crowd back.
The four youths were taken to a police station in the city center as a result. The police said they are suspected of assaulting law-enforcement officials.
“Why weren’t you complying with legitimate police demands?” a senior police officer at the scene, Valeri Osipian, told an HAK representative, Vladimir Karapetian, after the detentions. “When a policeman says something, you must comply,” he said.
“Should we obey illegal orders?” responded Karapetian. He denounced the police actions as a “provocation.”
The HAK likewise accused the police of breaking the law in a statement issued later in the day. “Despite these illegalities, the Congress will continue its daily struggle against this criminal government and vicious practices engendered by it,” said the opposition alliance.
The oppositionists were released without charge after spending more than eight hours in police custody. They received a hero’s welcome at an HAK rally held in Yerevan late in the evening.
“Their status is not yet clear,” their lawyer, Givi Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They were not [formally] interrogated as suspects or victims.” He claimed that their detention was therefore illegal.