Armenian law-enforcement authorities arrested Zhirayr Sefilian, a radical opposition leader, on Monday, saying that he plotted to overthrow the government through an armed revolt.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee also announced the arrest of six other men accused of being part of an armed group formed by Sefilian. It claimed to have confiscated large amounts of weapons from them.
“Together with a group of other individuals, Zhirayr Sefilian planned to seize, through the use of firearms, buildings and communications facilities, including Yerevan’s television tower,” the committee charged in a statement. “For that purpose, he organized the illegal acquisition and transport by a group of individuals of weapons and ammunition and their storage in various locations.”
The statement added that eight unidentified persons have already been charged with illegal arms possession. No such charges were formally levelled against Sefilian as of Monday afternoon.
Sefilian’s associates told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he was taken into custody shortly after law-enforcement officers began searching the offices of his New Armenia Public Salvation Front, a radical opposition grouping. They said the officers looked for weapons but did not find any, confiscating instead five computers as well as some documents.
The investigators also spent several hours searching Sefilian’s Yerevan apartment. They refused allow his lawyer Tigran Hayrapetian to watch the search. Hayrapetian protested against the “illegal” refusal.
“Of course, they didn’t find anything,” Sefilian’s wife Nanor said afterwards.
Varuzhan Avetisian, a senior New Armenia member, claimed that the opposition leader was arrested because he planned to campaign against Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
“Serzh Sarkisian is now pursuing a policy of return of the liberated territories and he decided to isolate his main political rival in order to prevent anyone from getting the people to rise up against his treacherous activities,” said Avetisian.
New Armenia held a series of anti-government rallies in Yerevan last December in an attempt to force President Serzh Sarkisian to step down. The campaign fizzled out due to poor attendance of those rallies.
Early this year New Armenia tried in vain to make another push for regime change. It again failed to win over mainstream opposition parties represented in Armenia’s parliament.
As recently as on June 11, Sefilian announced plans to set up a new opposition movement called the National Resistance Committee. “We have a treacherous government, and must create an alternative [to it] and take over the function of governing the country with the help of the people and the army as soon as possible,” he declared.
The Lebanese-born oppositionist did not specify just how the new group will strive to topple President Serzh Sarkisian.
A vocal critic of both the current and previous Armenian governments, Sefilian also campaigned against former President Robert Kocharian. In 2006, he was arrested after setting up an anti-government union of fellow war veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
The Armenian authorities claimed that they planned to mount an armed uprising against the Kocharian government. Sefilian was cleared of the coup charge during his subsequent trial. Still, he spent 18 months in prison for allegedly illegal arms possession.
Sefilian, 48, was again detained along with his four associates a year ago, ahead of a series of anti-government rallies planned by them. They were charged with plotting “mass disturbances” in Yerevan but were all set free a month later.
“As long as Zhirayr breathes, he will fight against them, whether in prison or outside it,” said his wife.