The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) threatened to pull out of its dialogue with the government on Friday as police pressed charges against most of the seven HAK activists arrested this week.
A lawyer for the detainees, Vartuhi Elbakian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that four of them have been formally charged with assaulting police officers in downtown Yerevan on Tuesday evening.
She said the Armenian police will ask a Yerevan court to place at least three of them under pre-trial arrest. The court was due to consider the petition later in the day.
The national police chief, Alik Sargsian, insisted on Thursday that the young activists were arrested after insulting and attacking a police patrol after it “reprimanded” another passerby. The detainees say, however, that they simply tried to stop the officers arbitrarily checking the identity of other young people and were beaten up as a result.
Elbakian criticized Sargsian for vehemently defending the arrests and said he thus violated her clients’ presumption of innocence. She also stood by opposition allegations that they were beaten up during the arrest and in police custody. “All seven young men had traces of injuries,” she said.
The police have sought to disprove these allegations with a video footage of their forcible entry into a police station in central Yerevan. The video broadcast by some TV stations and posted on the Internet shows some of the HAK youths angrily shouting and swearing at police officers there. The latter do not use force in response.
On Thursday, Sargsian met with Levon Zurabian, the head of the HAK delegation in the ongoing dialogue with Armenia’s governing coalition, to discuss the case. Davit Harutiunian, the chief coalition negotiator, was also in attendance.
Zurabian insisted the next day that the police chief failed to substantiate the police claims during both the meeting and a subsequent news conference. He said the HAK leadership will meet in the next few days to decide whether to continue the dialogue in these circumstances.
“These actions are giving us reason to suspect that the authorities are not prepared for a civilized dialogue, not prepared to debate, not prepared to move our confrontation on to a different plane where we could present our arguments in front of the people,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“They see that they lose in every round of negotiations and appear to have decided to resort to their old and tested crude methods,” he charged. “So we have some serious things to discuss.”