- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 28, 2003 

Crackdown or Crime?: Arrests continue to follow Presidential Election

At least 72 citizens have been arrested since the March 5 Presidential runoff election in what appears to be a round-up of Opposition supporters. The number may be as high as 103.

Human rights activists are charging that the arrests violate Constitutional liberties and Opposition forces are concerned that the arrests are meant to intimidate their supporters as the May Parliamentary elections approach.

Last Friday (March 21), 30 arrests were carried out in the evening following a demonstration protesting the election. According to Hanrapetutyan Party and Peoples Party of Armenia information, between 70 and 80 citizens have been arrested.

"Policemen of Shahumian district arrested my husband on March 22 at 7 in the morning," says Amur Petrosyan's wife, Naira. "Three people entered the house and immediately stood next to my husband telling him to put on his clothes and prepare to leave. I asked them why are you taking him away and they told that everything is fine and don't worry we will just fine him and send him back home."

But Petrosyan, like many others, was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment for participating in an anti-government demonstration at Republic Square.

Naira Petrosyan says she and her two children were then evicted from their apartment by a landlord who said he wanted to "get rid of the headache".

Relatives of the arrested are being required to pay 6,000 drams (about $10) as food allowance for the imprisoned, plus 1,000 drams for police photographs taken to be included in each of the arrested's file.

Representative of the People's Party of Armenia Dustrik Mkhitaryan charges that the money is not being spent on food.

Mkhitaryan, who is monitoring the arrests on behalf of the Opposition says that since March 17, 103 arrests have been made, including those "whom we don't have information about".

A "Justice" coalition of 10 opposition parties offers free legal counsel for those who allege police brutality during arrests.

Most of the women arrested are fined from about $1 to about $5 and released, while many of the men are imprisoned for from five to 15 days.

According to PPA spokeswoman Ruzanne Khachatryan, 62-year old Suren Sargsyan came to her office Monday, complaining that he had been taken from his home on March 18, without being allowed to put on shoes.

Sargsyan, a pensioner from Nork who has had two strokes and is in poor health, told Khachatryan that police did not allow him to call his family to ask for shoes and that he was kept in that condition until the next day when he was taken to court.

Sargsyan further claims that when he refused to sign a statement of confession that he had participated in a riot, a deputy in the police department struck him in the head.

Suren Hovanisyan, of Aragats, remains in hospital with injuries he sustained when police stopped a bus on its way to a March 21 rally in Yerevan. Witnesses say police were blocking roads into Yerevan. Hovanisyan was injured while police were chasing the commuters.

Human rights activists say the actions of police and the orders of arrests themselves violate Armenia's agreement to improve protection of citizen rights as part of its membership in the Council of Europe.

But Ministry of Justice press secretary Ara Saghatelyan says citizens "were brought, are brought and will be brought" to administrative responsibility for not obeying social order and for resisting arrest.

"From this point of view even the Soviet Union was a more legal country than present Armenia," says head of the Armenian Helsinki Committee Avetik Ishkhanyan, adding that during the Karabakh Movment, it was the Karabakh Committee that was arrested, not participants in their rallies.


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  Photo of the week
Click on the photo above to enlarge


At today's Under-21 football match between Armenia and Northern Ireland, played in Abovian, the match had to be delayed for nearly an hour while workers cleared the pitch of snow. When the field was cleared, the home team played to a 2-0 victory.



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