The Armenian police said on Sunday that more than 100 supporters of Gagik Tsarukian were detained while protesting against apparent criminal proceedings launched against the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
The police spokesman, Ashot Aharonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that they were taken into custody because of defying police orders outside the National Security Service (NSS) headquarters in Yerevan.
Hundreds of angry Tsarukian supporters rallied there as NSS officers began interrogating the BHK leader hours after searching his house. Riot police pushed the crowd away from the building. They said that the demonstration is illegal, citing a coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia.
Following the search, the NSS issued a statement alleging that BHK activists handed out vote bribes in the run-up to 2017 parliamentary elections at the behest of the party’s “leading members.” Another NSS statement accused two gambling firms controlled by Tsarukian of large-scale fraud.
Tsarukian accused the authorities of political persecution when he addressed the press before heading to the NSS building.
The BHK’s governing board issued a statement later in the day linking the crackdown to Tsarukian’s recent demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his government. It said that the party, which holds the second largest of seats in the Armenian parliament, will not bow to the “illegal pressure.”
A smaller number of protesters, among them senior BHK parliamentarians, remained gathered near the NSS headquarters even after the mass detentions.
One of the lawmakers, Naira Zohrabian, said the authorities may now ask the National Assembly to lift Tsarukian’s immunity from prosecution and arrest him. “We are ready for all scenarios,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, said that he has dispatched “rapid-reaction teams” to police stations where the BHK backers were held. He said they will talk to the detainees to and look into the legality of their arrest.