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Armenian Government Critics Prosecuted Over ‘Fake’ Facebook Page


Armenia - Karen Bekarian (L) and Ara Saghatelian.

Four anti-government activists were arrested and indicted over the weekend for allegedly creating a social media account that regularly spreads offensive comments about Armenia’s leadership.

Two of them were set free on Sunday and Monday in accordance with court orders.

The National Security Service (NSS) charged Ara Saghatelian, a former chief of the Armenian parliament staff, Karen Bekarian, a veteran pundit and former lawmaker, and two other men with calling for violence and criticizing government actions in breach of martial law declared during the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a statement, the NSS claimed that the “group” led by Saghatelian did that through a Facebook page opened in the name of a certain “Gagik Soghomonyan.” It cited in particular the “fake” Facebook user’s abusive statuses blaming Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the war, branding him a “traitor” and insulting his supporters.

The Facebook page continued to be updated after the arrests.

All four suspects denied any connection with “Gagik Soghomonyan.” Lawyers representing them dismissed the accusations as politically motivated.

A Yerevan court sanctioned on Sunday the two-month pre-trial arrest of Saghatelian, who had also run a government-funded public relations agency during former President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule. His lawyer said he will appeal against the decision.

Another, little-known suspect, Aram Sargsian, was also remanded in custody.

At the same time the court ordered Bekarian and the fourth suspect, Mher Avagian, released from jail. Avagian heads a non-governmental organization called the International Center for the Development of Parliamentarianism.

Bekarian described the criminal case as “political persecution” when he spoke to reporters following his release on Monday.

“When you can’t understand the essence of the case, can’t understand what is being prosecuted, when you see no logic [behind it] you quickly realize that the [investigators’] motive is completely different,” he said.

Bekarian used to represent Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in Armenia’s former parliament. He is a co-founder of the Qaryak Media company comprising a TV channel, a radio station and an online news website. All three media outlets are highly critical of the current government.

Representatives of the HHK and other opposition groups strongly condemned the arrests.

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