An Armenian higher court has rejected the appeal filed by the lawyer of Pavel Manukian, one of about three dozen members of an armed group that seized and held for two weeks a police station in Yerevan in July, to have a general jurisdiction court’s decision on his pretrial detention revoked.
Manukian, a charismatic mustachioed veteran of the 1992-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh, was wounded in the legs in what police said was a shootout with gunmen on July 27, four days before the surrender of the group.
Three police officers were killed during the tense standoff in which several members of security forces and a number of gunmen, including Manukian’s son, were wounded.
The events unfolded against the backdrop of public rallies held in support of the armed group, calling itself Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun), that was making political demands to the country’s leadership, including the release of jailed leader of a fringe opposition movement, Founding Parliament, Zhirayr Sefilian and other oppositionists whom it regarded as political prisoners.
Sasna Tsrer members, many of whom were veterans of the Karabakh war, also called for President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and a revision of a purportedly conciliatory policy on the settlement of the protracted conflict with Azerbaijan.
The day after Sasna Tsrer’s surrender, Sarkisian publicly praised the country’s security agencies for handling the crisis and managing to avoid major bloodshed. At the same time, he warned that further attempts to achieve political changes in Armenia by violent means would also fail.
Sarkisian also pledged to ensure an “objective investigation” into the case that included hostage-taking as a number of senior police officers and ambulance workers were held by the gunmen for days before being let go.
A court in Yerevan on Friday also rejected appeals from two other members of Sasna Tsrer to have the decisions on their pretrial detention revoked. The hearing of another similar appeal was postponed till Monday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of activists and supporters of Sasna Tsrer, Founding Parliament and other radical opposition initiatives again gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square late on Friday to demand the release of their imprisoned leaders and other opposition members whom they consider to be political prisoners. Speakers at the rally also reiterated calls for drastic political changes in Armenia, including the resignation of the current administration and the holding of free and fair elections.