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Armenian Opposition Condemns Activist's Arrest

Armenian opposition activist Vardges Gaspari
Armenian opposition activist Vardges Gaspari
YEREVAN -- The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has demanded the immediate release of one of its activists arrested after a scuffle with police, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Vardges Gaspari was detained on October 20 in Yerevan during a nonpartisan protest outside the prime minister's office against continuing noncombat deaths of Armenian servicemen.

Several dozen protesters chanted "Shame!" when national police chief General Alik Sarkisian emerged from the government building after a cabinet session, and tried to block his way.

Sarkisian's bodyguards manhandled the protesters out of the way to enable Sarkisian to reach his nearby limousine, while Gaspari hurled abuse at him.

Gaspari was forced into a police car shortly afterwards and driven away. Some of the other protesters, including opposition parliamentarian Zaruhi Postanjian, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the arrest.

Police said later in the day that Gaspari is suspected of hooliganism and assault. He had not been formally charged as of this evening. A police spokesman declined further comment on the case.

The HAK strongly condemned the arrest of Gaspari, who is known for having taken part in just about every antigovernment demonstration in Yerevan in the last three years. In a statement, the opposition bloc branded the police action illegal and politically motivated.

It accused Sarkisian of "getting involved in political processes and taking revenge on political and civic activists who criticize him."

Senior HAK representative Vladimir Karapetian insisted that the Iranian-born Gaspari did not insult Sarkisian. "What Vardges Gaspari constantly says to politicians or the authorities fits into the framework of political activities," he told RFE/RL.

Karapetian also drew parallels between Gaspari's arrest and the controversial criminal case against Tigran Arakelian, another young HAK activist.

Arakelian was arrested in early August after he and several other members of the HAK's youth wing clashed with police officers in circumstances that remain unclear. He is still in custody pending trial on charges of assault and hooliganism.

Arakelian's prosecution precipitated the collapse of the HAK's landmark negotiations with Armenia's governing coalition that got under way in July.