A man accused of aiding anti-government gunmen who seized a police compound in Yerevan last year remains on hunger strike which he began three weeks ago immediately after being again arrested by law-enforcement authorities.
Lawyers for Artur Sargsian expressed serious concern about his condition on Wednesday, saying that his life may now be at risk.
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 despite the authorities’ refusal to meet its demands that 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 free Sargsian on December 31 pending trial due to his deteriorating health condition. The SIS again detained him on February 9, saying that he ignored a summons from SIS officials investigating the standoff which left three police officers dead.
Sargsian has since been refusing food in protest against his detention. He was transferred to a prison hospital in Yerevan shortly after starting the hunger strike.
Sargsian lawyers said the protest has seriously aggravated a number of chronic illnesses from which he has long been suffering. They said the authorities should at least move him to a regular hospital where he would receive more adequate treatment.
“We visited Artur Sargsian yesterday,” one of the lawyers, Davit Gyurjian, told reporters. “His condition is quite serious … He can’t get up and walk anymore.”
Another attorney, Tigran Yegorian, charged that his client’s treatment by the law-enforcement authorities amounts to torture. Yegorian said he has lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.
A Justice Ministry division running Armenia’s prisons insisted, however, that Sargsian’s health problems are not serious as they are portrayed by the lawyers. A spokesman for the agency said doctors at the prison hospital are monitoring the suspect’s condition around the clock.
The investigators have refused to release him from pre-trial detention despite a joint appeal from 26 mainly opposition members of Armenia’s parliament issued earlier this week.
Avetik Ishkhanian, a prominent human rights activist, condemned the authorities’ stance as politically motivated. “They do realize that he won’t flee Armenia if set free,” Ishkhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).