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Prominent Opposition Podcast Hosts Violently Arrested in Yerevan; Human Rights Defenders Say It's "Politically Motivated" and Stifles Free Speech

Prominent Opposition Podcast Hosts Violently Arrested in Yerevan; Human Rights Defenders Say It's "Politically Motivated" and Stifles Free Speech

Outspoken critics of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's government and prominent opposition activists, as well as podcast hosts, have been forcefully taken into custody by police officers in Yerevan today. Narek Samsonyan’s arrest is being described as brutal by human rights defender Ruben Melikyan, igniting a storm of controversy and accusations of political repression.

The sequence of events unfolded on Friday morning when Samsonyan was apprehended, reportedly facing charges of "hooliganism," a move widely condemned as politically motivated. Melikyan, addressing the public through a Facebook live video, vehemently criticized the arrest, labeling it as a blatant attempt to stifle free speech and silence dissenting voices.

"This is yet another case of an opposition figure's arrest in retaliation for free speech," Melikyan emphasized, pointing out that the charges against Samsonyan seemed fabricated and aimed at shutting down his influential platform, the Imnemnimi podcast.

The arrest has drawn widespread condemnation, with various figures denouncing the authorities' actions as a grave violation of human rights and democratic principles. Levon Kocharyan, a member of the National Assembly, decried the arrest as "inhumane and illegal," echoing concerns raised by human rights advocates.

In response to the growing outcry, the Human Rights Defender swiftly initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Samsonyan's arrest, with representatives closely monitoring developments at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee confirmed Samsonyan's arrest but refrained from providing detailed information, citing an ongoing criminal investigation. The charges against Samsonyan, filed under Article 297 of the Criminal Code, revolve around allegations of hooliganism involving the use of communication technologies.

The situation escalated further with the arrest of Vazgen Saghatelyan, Samsonyan's fellow activist and co-host of the Imnemnimi podcast. Moment’s before Saghatelyan was taken into custody, The Armenian Report contacted him for statement. Saghatelyan told The Armenian Report, “This is an open violence against the freedom of speech, a personal revenge through the use of highly disproportionate force, an attempt to silence the opposition platform. Such a disgrace, that is, knocking a person to the ground with seven people for his speech and initiating a criminal case, is possible only in Nikol's "bastion of democracy".”

Saghatelyan's apprehension, following closely on the heels of Samsonyan's arrest, shows the intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices in Armenia.

Legal proceedings against the two activists have sparked outrage, with critics condemning the authorities' heavy-handed tactics and accusing them of attempting to quash freedom of expression. Ruben Melikyan, representing the detained activists, described the charges as absurd and politically motivated, stressing the need for international attention to safeguard fundamental rights in Armenia.

The situation took a troubling turn as footage emerged showing the use of disproportionate force during Samsonyan's arrest, prompting further condemnation from former Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan. Tatoyan condemned the use of masked police officers and highlighted the risks of ill-treatment during arrests conducted with excessive force.

As the legal proceedings unfold, concerns mount over the erosion of democratic norms and the suppression of dissenting voices in Armenia. The fate of Samsonyan and Saghatelyan hangs in the balance, with their detention serving as a stark reminder of the challenges facing those who dare to speak out against the current Armenian government.

Despite the crackdown, supporters vow to continue the fight for justice and uphold the principles of democracy and free speech. The Imnemnimi podcast, a bastion of opposition discourse, remains defiant. Today’s episode did go live with guest hosts, Edgar Ghazaryan and David Fidanyan.


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