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Armenian Activists Arrested After Clash With Police

Seven Armenian National Congress activists were detained in Yerevan on August 9.
Seven Armenian National Congress activists were detained in Yerevan on August 9.
YEREVAN -- Seven young activists from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) are still in detention after clashing with police in Yerevan in unclear circumstances, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The HAK strongly condemned the arrests, made on August 9, as a provocation. In a statement issued on August 10, it demanded that the authorities free the activists and punish police who, they say, used force against them.

HAK sources said the incident occurred after two of the activists tried to stop police officers from arbitrarily checking the identity of several other young people walking in the city center. They said they and the five other opposition youths, who joined them moments later, were beaten up and driven to police headquarters in the central Kentron district.

The police had still not given their version of events by the evening of August 10. A police spokesman only said that a criminal case had been opened under articles of the Criminal Code dealing with hooliganism and assault on state officials.

Under the law, police must formally charge the seven men or set them free by late in the day on August 12.

Several dozen HAK members and supporters gathered outside the police station on August 9 to demand the immediate release of the activists. Their lawyers were allowed into the building but said they were unable to talk to their clients.

Nonetheless, the detainees did manage to photograph and videotape themselves from mobile phones and circulate those images on the Internet. Some of them had visible injuries on their faces and bodies.

Some HAK members at the scene alleged that the detainees were also beaten inside the police station. "We heard the cries of our boys, they were being hit," said Avetis Avagian, a senior party figure.

But Davit Harutiunian, who heads a delegation representing the government in its ongoing talks with the HAK, denied the abuse claims after visiting the police on August 10 when asked to do so by the chief opposition negotiator, Levon Zurabian.

Zurabian warned on August 9 that the incident called into question the continued dialogue between the two rival political camps. "We have to seriously analyze the existing situation and decide whether we need such dialogue," he told RFE/RL.

But the HAK statement issued the next day contained no explicit threat. It suggested that "some forces" in the government were taking advantage of President Serzh Sarkisian's absence from Armenia to try to derail the dialogue between the government and the opposition.

The opposition alliance also claimed that officials provoked the violent incident in response to HAK demands for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections that have been voiced during the negotiations.

Read more and see video in Armenian here