The arrested leader of anti-government protesters that clashed with riot police in Yerevan last month has reportedly begun a hunger strike to demand that law-enforcement authorities stop blocking any direct contact between him and his relatives.
Shant Harutiunian, a veteran nationalist activist, and 13 other men have been held incommunicado since being arrested on November 5 during what they called an attempt to topple the government. Riot police used force against them and dozens of other men armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades as they tried to march towards the presidential administration building. The detainees will risk between five and ten years’ imprisonment if convicted on assault charges leveled by the police.
According to Harutiunian’s wife, Ruzan Badalian, the activist began refusing food in a Yerevan prison late on Tuesday. “On December 18, Shant Harutiunian asked investigators to lift the ban on visits but his request was turned down,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “He warned that he will go on hunger strike if the ban is not lifted.”
Badalian complained that the prison administration has banned even phone conversations between her husband and his family members. “He is totally isolated,” she said. “We get information only through his lawyer.”
Badalian and relatives of the other detainees picketed the Office of the Prosecutor-General late last week to demand the lifting of the ban. They were joined by several dozen other protesters, among them veteran human rights campaigner Artur Sakunts. The latter said that although Armenian law allows the police to hold suspects incommunicado the measure is too harsh in relation to the Harutiunian case.