Security officers remove opposition deputy Gegham Manukyan from the parliament podium, Օctober 26, 2021

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Security officers dragged an Armenian opposition lawmaker from the parliament podium after he strongly criticized one of his pro-government colleagues on October 26.

The incident occurred during a heated debate in the National Assembly on opposition demands for a parliamentary inquiry into the alleged misuse of funds collected by a government-backed pan-Armenian charity for Nagorno-Karabakh during last year’s war with Azerbaijan.

Vigen Khachatryan, a deputy from the ruling Civil Contract party, accused the parliamentary opposition of trying to discredit the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and the Armenian government with various “abominations.”

Gegham Manukyan of the main opposition Hayastan alliance responded by recalling and condemning Khachatryan’s recent remark that continued Armenian control over Karabakh is not vital for Armenia.

“He who renounces Artsakh (Karabakh) is a traitor,” Manukyan charged on the parliament floor.

Ruben Rubinyan, the parliament’s pro-government deputy speaker chairing the session, accused Manukyan of breaching “ethical rules” before switching off his microphone and ordering uninformed officers of the State Protection Service (SPS) to forcibly remove the prominent oppositionist from the podium. The session was interrupted as a result.

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Manukyan stood by his statement and accused the authorities of trying to stifle free speech in the parliament when he spoke with journalists after the incident.

Alen Simonyan, the parliament speaker and a leading member of the ruling party, routinely interrupted and reprimanded opposition strongly criticizing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during sessions of the National Assembly held in August.

Simonyan claimed that they insulted Pashinyan. He ordered SPS officers to remove from the chamber one of those lawmakers who continued to attack the prime minister on August 24.

Hayastan and another opposition group represented in the current parliament have accused the authorities of illegally restricting free speech on the parliament floor for the first time in Armenia’s post-Soviet history.

The SPS is a security agency primarily tasked providing bodyguards to Armenia top state officials. Scores of its uniformed officers were deployed inside the parliament building this summer.

They set up checkpoints and placed metal detectors at the entrances to the main parliament auditorium. Acting on Simonyan’s orders, they also made sure that parliamentary correspondents can no longer interview deputies coming out of the chamber or approach the offices of lawmakers representing Pashinyan’s party.

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