Police detain opposition protesters in Yerevan, May 5, 2022

Armenian Opposition Protesters Face Criminal Proceedings

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By Susan Badalian and Naira Bulghadarian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian law-enforcement authorities have opened more than a dozen criminal cases against participants of daily opposition demonstrations aimed at forcing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign.

They say that the protesters have defied police orders to unblock roads and committed “hooligan” acts during the weeklong demonstrations organized by Armenia leading opposition forces.

The Investigative Committee said over the weekend that one man has been arrested on charges of hitting a policeman while two others indicted for burning tires at a blocked street intersection in Yerevan. The committee said other protesters may also be prosecuted for not obeying “legitimate orders” of riot police.

Elinar Vartanyan, a parliament deputy from the main opposition Hayastan alliance, denounced the “absurd” criminal proceedings, saying that they are aimed at discouraging Armenians from campaigning for Pashinyan’s removal from power. She said opposition supporters simply exercised their constitutional right of peaceful assembly.

The authorities have not initiated such proceedings against any police officers accused by the opposition as well as human rights groups of disproportionate use of force. One policeman was caught on camera last week punching an opposition supporter during his arrest.

Opposition supporters demonstrate in France Square, Yerevan, May 9, 2022.

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The Armenian police have said they are conducting internal inquiries into nine alleged instances of such misconduct. No officer is known to have been suspended.

On Friday, May 6, law-enforcement officials raided the offices of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, a key member of Hayastan, in Armavir province. Two local Dashnaktsutyun activists were arrested afterwards on charges of paying people to attend the anti-government protests in Yerevan.

Dashnaktsutyun’s governing body in Armenia was quick to condemn the arrests and reject the accusations, saying that they are part of government efforts to thwart the opposition push to oust Pashinyan.

The Investigative Committee also claimed to have obtained evidence of vote buying by Dashnaktsutyun in general and local elections held last year.

“To accuse Dashnaktsutyun of vote buying is just absurd,” Artsvik Minasyan, a senior party figure, said on Monday.

Minasyan claimed that the authorities are opening “false and illegal criminal cases” because they “realize that this liberation movement is gaining momentum.”

“This movement will not die down,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, another Dashnaktsutyun leader, told thousands of people who again rallied in the center of Yerevan later in the day. He said the protests will continue until Pashinyan agrees to step down.

The prime minister, who is accused by the opposition of planning to make sweeping concessions to Azerbaijan, has rejected the demands for his resignation.

The authorities raised eyebrows last Thursday when they effectively threatened to have the Armenian military call up men of fighting age participating in the protests. Senior pro-government lawmakers said law-enforcement agencies should pass their personal data on to the Ministry of Defense.

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