YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Law-enforcement authorities have arrested another organizer of daily demonstrations held in Yerevan in support of armed members of an Armenian opposition group holed up in a police station.
Alek Yenigomshian, a leading member of the Founding Parliament opposition movement, was detained along with several other opposition figures on Wednesday evening as they were about to hold their next rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Yenigomshian’s lawyer, Nikolay Baghdasarian, said on Thursday that his client is suspected of aiding the gunmen affiliated with Founding Parliament. Baghdasarian denied that, saying that the National Security Service (NSS) has failed to come up with any evidence.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), the lawyer also claimed the arrest is illegal because NSS officers committed serious procedural violations.
The NSS has not yet publicized any details of the criminal proceedings launched against Yenigomshian.
Yenigomshian has been the main speaker at virtually daily rallies held for the past week at a section of Khorenatsi Street close to the police compound in the city’s southern Erebuni district. The gunmen seized it on July 17 to demand the release of Founding Parliament’s jailed top leader, Jirayr Sefilian, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Another senior Founding Parliament figure, Armen Mikaelian, and Levon Barseghian, a prominent civic campaigner who has also addressed Khorenatsi Street rallies, were arrested on Tuesday. The two men look set to be charged with illegal possession of a weapon and knife respectively. Their supporters have laughed off the accusations.
Throughout Wednesday, the police detained at least 66 persons in an attempt to prevent another anti-government rally at the Khorenatsi Street section located just a few hundred meters from the seized police facility.
The detained persons included Arsinee Khanjian, a renowned Canadian-Armenian actress. Khanjian delivered an emotional speech on Tuesday at a rally held in support of the Founding Parliament gunmen locked in a standoff with Armenian security forces. She was released several hours later, with the police calling her arrest a “misunderstanding.”
All other detainees except Yenigomshian were set free by Thursday morning.
The mass detentions were strongly criticized by Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, and non-governmental groups. “The purpose of yesterday’s demonstrative abuses was to scare away the organizers and participants of rallies,” said Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist.
Calls for release of medics held hostage
Armenia’s Ministry of Health renewed its calls on Thursday for the gunmen occupying a police compound in Yerevan to release an ambulance crew held hostage by them.
The two doctors, a nurse and a paramedic were taken hostage on Wednesday morning after they went into the compound to help some of the gunmen that were wounded by security forces besieging them. The paramedic was released later in the day.
Founding Parliament claimed that the medics are not hostages, while acknowledging that they are being kept in the police facility against their will.
“We will release the doctors if the [health] minister personally shows up and organizes surgeries in this territory,” the armed group itself said in a short message posted on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon.
Health Minister Armen Muradian went to the scene of the standoff in the city’s Erebuni district later in the day. However, security forces reportedly kept him from entering the seized compound.
In a statement released the following day, Muradian’s ministry said the hostage taking “went beyond all humanitarian bounds and is unacceptable in the entire world.”
“The Ministry of Health is again calling for the unconditional release of the medical personnel being held hostage,” it said.
The appeal was echoed by prominent doctors running various Armenian hospitals. Two medics working at Yerevan’s ambulance service held a news conference in Yerevan on Thursday to also demand the release of their colleagues.