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Armenian Opposition Threatens To End Dialogue With Government

The seven activists from the Armenian National Congress (HAK) were detained in disputed circumstances last week.
The seven activists from the Armenian National Congress (HAK) were detained in disputed circumstances last week.
YEREVAN -- The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) threatened to pull out of its dialogue with the government as police pressed charges against most of seven HAK activists who were arrested last week, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

A lawyer for the detainees, Vartuhi Elbakian, told RFE/RL on August 12 that four of the activists have been formally charged with assaulting police officers in downtown Yerevan on the evening of August 9.

She said the police will ask a Yerevan court to place at least three of them in pretrial detention.

National police chief Alik Sarkisian insisted on August 11 that the young activists were arrested after insulting and attacking a police patrol after it "reprimanded" another passerby.

The detainees say, however, that they simply tried to stop the officers arbitrarily checking the identity of other young people and were beaten up as a result.

Elbakian criticized Sarkisian for vehemently defending the arrests and said he thus violated her clients' presumption of innocence.

She also stood by opposition allegations that they were beaten up during the arrest and while in police custody. "All seven young men had traces of injuries," she said.

The police have sought to disprove these allegations with a video of the activists' forcible entry into a police station in central Yerevan.

The video, broadcast by some TV stations and posted on the Internet, shows some of the HAK youths angrily shouting and swearing at police officers there. The police do not use force in response.

On August 11, Sarkisian met with Levon Zurabian, the head of the HAK delegation in the ongoing dialogue with the governing coalition, to discuss the case.

Davit Harutiunian, the chief coalition negotiator, was also in attendance.

Zurabian insisted the next day that the police chief failed to substantiate the police claims during both the meeting and a subsequent news conference. He said the HAK leadership will meet in the next few days to decide whether to continue the dialogue in these circumstances.

"These actions are giving us reason to suspect that the authorities are not prepared for a civilized dialogue, not prepared to debate, not prepared to move our confrontation on to a different plane where we could present our arguments in front of the people," Zurabian told RFE/RL.

"They see that they lose in every round of negotiations and appear to have decided to resort to their old and tested crude methods," he charged. "So we have some serious things to discuss."