A court in Yerevan on Tuesday allowed an Armenian law-enforcement agency to keep in pretrial detention four opposition politicians who were among the organizers of an anti-government demonstration broken up by riot police.
The protest was staged late on Friday in support of opposition gunmen that seized a police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district to demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. It took place several hundred meters from the compound besieged by security forces.
Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd after the organizers ignored their warnings to march back to the city center. They also detained scores of people.
Three of them -- Armen Martirosian, Hovsep Khurshudian and Davit Sanasarian -- are senior members of Zharangutyun (Heritage), a major opposition headed by Raffi Hovannisian. The fourth oppositionist, Andrias Ghukasian, is a former presidential candidate.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee charged the four men with organizing “mass disturbances” before asking a district court in Yerevan to allow investigators to keep them under arrest for two months. The court granted the requests after lengthy hearings that began on Monday evening and ended early on Tuesday.
The oppositionists’ lawyers condemned the court rulings as baseless and politically motivated. Martirosian’s lawyer, Givi Hovannisian, said the rulings are based on testimony given by police officers.
Hovannisian claimed that the testimony ran counter to video of the protest shown during the hearings. “The video proved that there were no calls [for violence] and that the rally was peaceful,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
At least 60 people, most of them protesters, were seriously injured during the violence that unfolded in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood adjacent to Erebuni. The Armenian opposition and human rights groups have accused the police of using excessive force.
“While police could legitimately seek to prevent protesters from getting too close to the police station, they were still bound to uphold human rights and respect standards on the use of force,” the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.
“Security forces should not fire stun grenades directly into crowds,” it said. “Although the grenades are technically non-lethal, their fragmentation can foreseeably cause serious injuries in an indiscriminate manner, exposing non-violent protesters and on-lookers to grave harm.”