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Activists Rally In Support Of Armenian 'Political Prisoners'

Prominent human rights activist Shirin Ebadi (left) joins an opposition protest in Yerevan.
Prominent human rights activist Shirin Ebadi (left) joins an opposition protest in Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- The organizers of an international human rights conference in Yerevan joined thousands of protesters on April 6 to demand the immediate release of jailed opposition supporters, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Leaders of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and their invited guests from around the world chanted "Freedom!" in Armenian and made victory signs to the crowd during a surprise appearance at a rally timed to coincide with the start of the three-day forum.

FIDH Chairwoman Souhayr Belhassen told the crowd of several hundred people, "My dear friends, the entire FIDH is with you."

Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize-winning activist from Iran, echoed that demand just as emphatically, describing the more than a dozen imprisoned Armenian oppositionists as "political prisoners."

"The freedom-loving people of Armenia, know that you are not alone," she said.

WATCH: Shirin Ebadi addresses protesters in Yerevan.

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FIDH leaders, Ebadi, and other conference participants were cheered as they left the hillside square in downtown Yerevan -- a traditional venue for street gatherings.

Their presence and rousing speeches were a major boost for the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and its leader, Levon Ter-Petrossian.

"In effect, the International Federation for Human Rights and our rally have united today," Ter-Petrossian said in a speech following the FIDH speeches.

In the lead-up to the FIDH's annual conference, some opposition supporters expressed concern that the Armenian authorities might exploit the event to improve their image abroad.

Sarkisian was initially due to open the FIDH gathering with a keynote speech, but he canceled it for unknown reasons and left Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian and Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian to welcome the participants from more than 140 countries.

Both Harutiunian and Danielian were heckled by several opposition and civic activists as they came to the podium. Some participants applauded when one man shouted "Shame on you!" at Danielian.

"Take this as a manifestation of the development of civil society and let me start my speech," Harutiunian told the audience. He expressed hope that the event will contribute to the development of "a judicial system enjoying public trust" in Armenia.