YEREVAN -- An Armenian opposition activist and prominent former boxer has been arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer that he and his supporters say are politically motivated, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Samson Khachatrian, who was a renowned Soviet boxer in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested on March 13.
Yerevan police said Khachatrian used force against officers during a rally held by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on March 1.
The rally drew thousands of opposition supporters demanding snap elections and the release of all jailed opposition members.
Khachatrian's family and lawyer said he only tried to stop plainclothes officers from beating young women present at the rally.
"My father said, 'Stop it, you must not hit the girls,'" Khachatrian's son Sarkis told RFE/RL. "But they said: 'Who do you think you are? We'll smash your head.' They then started shoving my father."
"They didn't even say that they were policemen," Sarkis added.
Arrested After Comments
The HAK condemned the arrest, alleging political motives behind the case and demanding Khachatrian's immediate release. In a statement, the opposition alliance said the activist was jailed as part of frantic government efforts to minimize attendance at its next rally scheduled for March 17.
The HAK also said the arrest was triggered by Khachatrian's harsh criticism of the authorities that he voiced in an interview with the pro-opposition daily "Chorrord inknishkhanutyun" published on March 12.
"The regime got worried about the impact of the world-famous athlete's words, and they decided to neutralize it in this way," it said.
Khachatrian's lawyer, Ara Zakarian, also saw a link between the criminal charges and the newspaper interview. "If such an incident indeed took place [on March 1,] why didn't they arrest him on the spot or the next day?" Zakarian argued.
Ashot Karapetian, the police chief of Yerevan's central administrative district, insisted that Khachatrian's political views and activities had nothing to do with his prosecution.
"Nobody has the right to raise a hand against a police officer, regardless of whether they are from the opposition or pro-government camp," Karapetian told RFE/RL.
The arrest came the day after President Serzh Sarkisian claimed he was untroubled by the HAK's renewed campaign of antigovernment protests and described opposition leaders as responsible politicians who do not want to destabilize Armenia.
Sarkisian also said that both the authorities and the opposition have made mistakes in the past and should not repeat them now.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK's central office coordinator, today accused Sarkisian of hypocrisy, telling RFE/RL that his "words are not backed up by actions."
Zurabian added that "I would have been inclined to see [in Sarkisian's remarks] some positive signals and even signs of readiness to take some steps had there not been very incomprehensible, illegal [government] actions poisoning the atmosphere such as yesterday's disgraceful arrest of Samson Khachatrian."