Hundreds of residents of Karajan, a small town in southeastern Armenia, took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the arrest of four local men linked to its mayor.
The mayor, Manvel Paramazian, led the daylong protests after condemning the “unfounded arrests” and claiming that they are part of his “political persecution” by law-enforcement authorities.
Paramazian’s protesting supporters gathered outside a police station in Kapan, the nearby capital of the country’s Syunik province, where the arrested men were held on suspicion of violent assault. Angered by rumors about their ill-treatment in police custody, the crowd tried to stop the local police from transferring the suspects to Yerevan.
Syunik Governor Hunan Poghosian addressed it, promising that the criminal investigation will objective. The protesters refused to disperse, however.
Paramazian added to their fury after being allowed to enter the police station and see the detainees. He alleged that they were indeed tortured by policemen.
Still, the protesters agreed to unblock the entrance to the police station at Paramazian’s urging at around midnight. The mayor said local officials assured him that the probe will be fair and that the men connected to him will not be subjected to violence.
In a late-night statement, Armenia’s Investigative Committee clarified that the arrested men are suspected of kidnapping and beating up another Kajaran resident late last month. It said investigators also found large quantities of marijuana in a house belonging to one of the suspects.
The statement indicated that Paramazian is also regarded as a suspect in the case. It said investigators are now trying to “verify” and “ascertain” the mayor’s possible involvement in the violence.
Paramazian, who has run the industrial town since 2016, confirmed that the police searched his home last week.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Yerevan said on Monday that they have instructed another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service, to investigate the torture allegations. Also, the national police chief, Aram Sargsian, ordered an internal inquiry for the same purpose.
A lawyer representing one of the arrested men, Khoren Mirzoyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that his client did not claim to have been ill-treated by policemen when they spoke on Sunday. He also said that Mirzoyan denies any involvement in the alleged violence.
Located about 370 kilometers southeast of Yerevan, Kajaran is home to Armenia’s largest mining enterprise. The Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) employs more than 4,000 people. Many of them are Kajaran residents.
According to the Investigative Committee, the four arrested men also work at ZCMC.