At least three activists highly critical of Armenia’s current leadership were briefly detained in Yerevan on Tuesday in what they denounced as a government attempt to intimidate them.
They all were set free without charge after spending several hours in police custody.
The Armenian police said two of the outspoken activists, Narek Malian and Konstantin Ter-Nakalian, were detained on suspicion of illegal arms possession. Both men shrugged off the explanation.
An amateur video posted on the Internet showed masked officers of a special police unit toppling Malian to the ground outside his office in downtown Yerevan, handcuffing him and pushing him into a car.
Another activist, Artur Danielian, was stopped by policemen while driving his car and airing a live video address on Facebook. Danielian said after his release later in the day that two of his associates were also forcibly taken to a police station. He said they were told that they are suspected of drug possession.
Some opposition figures and other critics of the Armenian government condemned the detentions as arbitrary, saying the authorities are trying to stifle dissent in the country.
Danielian and Ter-Nakalian are the leaders of the nationalist Adekvad movement, while Malian leads a separate group called Veto. Both groups rely heavily on social media in their campaigns against the government and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in particular.
They also take a dim view of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Armenia’s former leadership and brought Pashinian to power. Malian worked as an adviser to the former chief of the national police, Vladimir Gasparian, before the revolution.
Malian ridiculed the police actions against him when he spoke to reporters after his release. He accused the authorities of making “last-ditch attempts to keep the situation under control.”
He also claimed that his arrest was demanded by the Armenian branch of U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF).
The OSF and its alleged ties to the Pashinian government have been the main target of Malian’s and Veto’s activities. In September last year, the group for weeks picketed the OSF offices in Yerevan, deriding its employees and recipients of OSF grants.
Earlier in 2019, the head of OSF-Armenia, Larisa Minasian, held a news conference to decry “false allegations” about its activities made by Malian and other anti-government activists.