Two of the arrested members of an armed opposition group that seized a police station in Yerevan last year have been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks.
One of them, Vartan Geravetian, started refusing food on July 21 to demand that the Armenian authorities recognize him, his comrades as well as their jailed sympathizers as political prisoners. He is also demanding that he and the other gunmen kept in Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison be separated from other inmates for security reasons.
Geravetian claims that the authorities are deliberately causing tension between the two groups of prisoners to intimidate the radical oppositionists. The other arrested man, Tigran Manukian, joined the hunger strike on July 24 in a show of solidarity with Geravetian.
Geravetian’s lawyer, Davit Gyurjian, said on Tuesday that both men are determined to continue the hunger strike. “I have no idea when this hunger strike will end,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Gyurjian expressed concern about his client’s health condition, saying that the latter has been seriously weakened by the 18-day protest.
The Armenian Justice Ministry’s prison management made clear that it will not meet any of those demands, calling them “illegal.” A department official also said that both men are now kept in special prisons cells for hunger strikers and regularly inspected by doctors.
Gyurjian insisted that the oppositionists must at least be moved to separate cells. “This is a very legitimate demand and it must be fulfilled by the state,” the lawyer said. “These people are citing the kind of danger which the state is obliged to neutralize.”
The gunmen seized the police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district in July 2016 to demand that President Serzh Sarkisian free the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement, Zhirayr Sefilian, and step down. They laid down their arms after a two-week standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead.
A total of 32 persons went on two separate trials earlier this summer on charges stemming from the deadly standoff.