Hovsep Khurshudyan: Release of political prisoners is the main task of the civil society

Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus Information Service

Dozens of activists remain in Armenian prisons, the police carries out political orders of the ruling elite, stresses a representative of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum released on bail.

Hovsep Khurshudyan, a member of the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and his colleagues in “Heritage” party Armen Martirosyan and David Sanasaryan are released on bail, where they remained “in custody” after being detained on the night of July 30 in Sari Tag area in Yerevan. Let us recall that in those days Yerevan was full of mass demonstrations in support of the demands of the Sasna Tsrer group that seized the police building. The participants of demonstrations held with Sasna Tsrer group in the requirements — to achieve President Serzh Sargsyan's resignation and to release all political prisoners. As a result of the brutal dispersal of demonstrators near Sari Tag and subsequent arrest of Sasna Tsrer group the number of political prisoners in Armenia increased by dozens. You can read the preliminary report of the monitoring mission of human rights defenders on the situation here .

In an interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service Hovsep Khurshudyan notes that his pre-trial release has been made possible “thanks to the pressure, exerted on the authorities by the civil society, human rights organizations from various countries, and diplomats of Western embassies.”

— I was detained allegedly on suspicion of involvement in the riots, was charged with the fact that I was throwing stones at police, which is complete nonsense. Everything was done with violations — from the detention to the actual pre-trial arrest for two months. The decision to arrest me was based on the testimony of two police witnesses — with no photo or video proof. Both of the police officers were citing the same text; they even knew my middle name, which many of my friends don’t. Well, it proves that they carefully studied my course of life (laughs). My alibi — I had people who could refute all this absurdity — didn’t interest the investigators; they carried out an obvious political order. Given the scale of arrests, we can say that the purpose of the government was to decapitate the movement of peaceful demonstrations in support of Sasna Tsrer group.

— The trial was held behind closed doors, wasn’t it?

— Yes, we didn’t have the real trial. Now in Armenia, investigators have enormous power — they can arrest a person for the time of investigation and sent to jail for pretrial detention, while the court would only confirm the legitimacy of their actions. You can fill in a complaint afterwards. After the change of political order (especially due to strong external and internal pressure) the trial court granted the petition to change the preventive measure for several political prisoners — not for Sasna Tsrer group members though. However, political persecution continues; and even though we are no longer in prison nothing can prevent the authorities to put us in prison again.

— The government won the confrontation in July — the protests started to decline. Does it mean that we should forget about the changes demanded by the society?

— On the one hand, the authorities managed to arrest people from Sasna Tsrer group by lying to them that there would be a meeting with a member of the “Constituent parliament” Zhirayr Sefilyan and Serzh Sargsyan, where the requirements of Sasna Tsrer will be discussed. On the other hand, members of the group were forced to lay down arms, as there have been wounded and the situation has become extremely explosive. Yes, the authorities have managed to “resolve” the situation without the massive bloodshed, although the society is still very discontent.

Of course, the demonstrations started to decline — many people lost hope; besides, many leaders are now in prisons. But this doesn’t mean that in the future people’s activity won’t raise dramatically. I think we can expect interesting developments in October and November, when the congress of the ruling Republican Party should take place. The Republican Party does understand that it’s impossible to hold this potentially explosive situation forever, when 85-90% of the population are not just unhappy with the authorities, but hate them. Now the authorities are discussing the agreement government. But even if the changes do take place, they’ll only be cosmetic and will still be controlled by the authorities. Corruption, clan system, planned economy, and monopolization are our fundamental problems; and the authorities don’t plan to abandon them.

— Yet the rallies continue, don’t they?

— Yes, they are held all the time. But our priorities have changed now: the first priority is the release of political prisoners; while the requirement of Sargsyan’s resignation has stepped into the background now. But we must continue to fight for freedom of activists. We are very concerned about the state of one of the leaders of people’s protest Andrias Ghukasyan, who has gone on hunger strike for over a month. In general, we are talking about the fate of dozens of people who are behind bars now.