YEREVAN — Armenian law-enforcement authorities on Thursday pressed criminal charges against the leaders of the Founding Parliament opposition movement arrested in advance of its planned anti-government protests in Yerevan.
The group’s top leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and two other senior members — Varuzhan Avetisian and Garegin Chukaszian — were formally charged with “preparing mass disturbances” during the upcoming officials ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. They will almost certainly be remanded in pre-trial custody.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee is due to level the same accusations against the three other Founding Parliament figures detained on Tuesday. One of them could also be charged with illegal arms possession.
The Investigative Committee pressed the charges after interrogating Sefilian, Avetisian and Chukaszian for several hours. The law-enforcement body leading the criminal investigation stood by its allegations in a statement issued afterwards.
The statement said that investigators confiscated a hand grenade, several knives and dozens of sticks and batons during searches carried out in the suspects’ homes and the Founding Parliament’s offices. It claimed that those objects were “designed to inflict corporal injuries” during riots.
The detainees, their associates as well as virtually all mainstream opposition parties strongly deny these allegations. They argue that the Founding Parliament never called for violence while preparing to launch on April 24 a campaign of nonstop protests aimed at forcing President Serzh Sarkisian to resign. The radical group has for years accused Sarkisian of corruption and misrule.
Several dozen Founding Parliament activists rallied outside the Investigative Committee as Sefilian and his comrades were questioned there. They again said that the protests will go ahead as planned despite the arrests.
“The regime’s end is coming. I promise you, people,” one of the activists told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said the Founding Parliament will follow a “roadmap” to regime change drawn up in 2013. He did not elaborate.