A man accused of aiding anti-government gunmen who seized a police compound in Yerevan last year went on a hunger strike on Friday one day after he was again arrested by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Artur Sargsian drove his car through a police cordon to deliver food to armed members of the Founding Parliament radical opposition group during their two-week standoff with security forces. He surrendered to them on July 31 along with the remaining gunmen holed up in the compound.
The armed group laid down its weapons after the authorities’ refusal to meet its demands. Those included President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of Founding Parliament’s jailed leader, Zhirayr Sefilian.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) agreed to release Sargsian on December 31 due to his deteriorating health condition. The SIS again detained him on Thursday, saying that he ignored a written order to visit on February 3 the law-enforcement body investigating the standoff which left three police officers dead.
A court in Yerevan promptly allowed investigators to keep the suspect under pre-trial arrest for at least two months.
Sargsian’s lawyer, Tigran Yegorian, rejected the official justification for the arrest. He said his client notified the SIS beforehand that he will be unable to show up on February 3 and asked for another date.
Sargsian began the hunger strike at a prison hospital where he was taken immediately after Thursday’s court ruling. Representatives of Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, visited him there on Friday. They said he told them that he is refusing food in protest against his “groundless” detention.
A group of Sargsian’s friends and supporters rallied, meanwhile, outside the SIS headquarters in Yerevan to condemn his imprisonment.They handed out bread to passersby in a symbolic show of solidarity with the suspect. “He spoke to me a few days ago said that he is feeling unwell,” one of the protesters said.
Zhanna Aleksanian, a human rights activist, also demanded Sargsian’s release. “He was arrested on illegal grounds,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).