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Human Rights Defenders Name Arrested Opposition Activist ‘First Political Prisoner of 2016’

In a statement issued on January 6, Rights and Support foundation named New Armenia opposition alliance member Gevorg Safaryan the first political prisoner of 2016. The foundation added that Safaryan also thinks his arrest to be politically motivated, based on unsubstantiated complaints of a police officer.

Safaryan was detained in the early hours of January 1 on Yerevan's Freedom Square where New Armenia members had been holding a round the clock sit-in since December 1, 2015. Law enforcement  officers, as stated by Rights and Support, hindered the attempts by alliance members to organize New Year's celebrations on demonstration site: the police attacked the demonstrators and ripped their Christmas tree apart; several people were subsequently diagnosed with concussion and head injuries,

Nevertheless, the statement notes, authorities detained five people – “the actual victims of police brutality” – from the Square on the suspicion of assault against a public official.  Few hours later, four of the detainees were released; however, Gevorg Safaryan was arrested and charged with the offence based on an accusation by Gegham Khachatryan, Commander of the 4th special battalion of the patrol service of Yerevan Police.

On January 3, a Yerevan district court sentenced Safaryan to two months' imprisonment. During the hearing, the accused announced that he was launching an indefinite hunger strike and demanded to be transferred to an individual jail cell. Safaryan's lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetyan stated that his client had been subjected to physical violence during his previous incarceration in Nubarashen penitentiary.

Speaking to local 1in.am, human rights defender Avetik Ishkhanyan also said he considered Safaryan a political prisoner since “nothing had happened on the Square to warrant a person's arrest.”

“New Armenia members posed no danger on Freedom Square, while the Police use of excessive force on New Year's Eve could be considered a provocation,” Ishkhanyan said.

Late on Tuesday, the opposition alliance reported that another New Armenia activist, 23-year-old Syuzi Gevorgyan, had been physically assaulted by two unknown assailants: “At around 9pm on January 5 two well-built men pursued Russia-based Syuzi Gevorgyan, threw her to the ground, kicked her in the head and the face, inflicting various physical injuries on her.”

According to the alliance's statement, the attackers, while beating Gevorgyan, told her: “We warned you to stay away. You should've listened to us!”

As of Thursday afternoon no one has been arrested or charged in connection with the incident.