A higher court in Armenia has rejected more appeals filed by some of the three dozen members of an armed group that seized and held for two weeks a police station in Yerevan last month, to have a general-jurisdiction court’s decisions on their pretrial detention revoked.
Among the rejected appeals was also that submitted by the lawyer of Varuzhan Avetisian, one of the leaders of the Sasna Tsrer group who also acted as its spokesperson and conducted negotiations with the authorities during the two-week crisis that began with the attack on a police headquarters in Yerevan’s Erebuni district on July 17.
Three police officers were killed in the tense standoff that ensued. Several members of security forces and a number of gunmen were also wounded. Several police officers and a number of ambulance workers were taken hostage and held for days by the gunmen during the standoff. None of them were hurt.
The gunmen, who made political demands to the country’s authorities, including the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian, appeared to have sought a general uprising in Armenia while they were holed up inside the police station, controlling its arsenal.
Several hundred people supporting Sasna Tsrer and Founding Parliament, a radical opposition movement to which the gunmen are loyal, rallied outside the standoff venue and elsewhere in Yerevan virtually on a daily basis throughout the crisis. Police used force to disperse their protests on July 20 and 29. Dozens of citizens and a number of security personnel were injured in the clashes. One protester died after setting himself on fire during a demonstration. Four opposition members were arrested and charged with “organizing mass disturbances” on July 29.
All Sasna Tsrer members finally surrendered on July 31 and are now charged with hostage-taking, seizing of buildings, illegal transportation and possession of weapons and ammunition.
Mushegh Shushanian, the lawyer of Avetisian and another Sasna Tsrer member, Areg Kyureghian, said his clients did not admit the charges. He complained that the text of the indictments for all members was “identical” and that their deeds were not treated on an individual basis.
“This is a political decision,” the lawyer claimed. “We did not expect anything else.”
Only one member of the Sasna Tsrer group was released by court pending investigation and trial. Gevorg Melkonian, who reportedly surrendered a few days before the surrender of the entire group, claimed he had been misled by others and had no intention of participating in the capture of the police building and other actions.