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By Karine Kalantarian
A 24-year-old man who hit a police officer with a plastic bottle of mineral water during the brutal dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan last month was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two senior members of Armenia’s most radical opposition party were set free after spending nearly two months in detention.

The court of first instance in Yerevan’s central administrative district handed down the ruling at the end of Edgar Arakelian’s two-day trial, citing a clause in the Armenian criminal code dealing with physical assaults on government officials which do not threaten their life. The defendant’s lawyer denounced the sentence as too harsh and vowed to appeal it.

Arakelian is a resident of a small town near the Armenian capital affiliated with the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). He was among dozens of people arrested for their participation in the April 12-13 demonstration on Marshal Baghramian Avenue leading to President Robert Kocharian’s official residence. Scores of others were injured when the baton-wielding riot police used water cannons, stun grenades and, according to some witness accounts, electric-shock equipment to break up the protest.

The heavy-handed police actions were condemned by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The Armenian government is repeating the same sorts of abuses that called into question the legitimacy of last year’s election and sparked the protests in the first place,” Rachel Denber, acting executive director of the New York-based group’s New Europe and Central Asia division, said in a statement on May 4.

Arakelian is the third opposition activist jailed on criminal charges since the start of the opposition campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian. Two other HZhK members were sentenced earlier this month to one year and 9 months in prison for clashing with government supporters and plainclothes police officers that tried to disrupt an opposition demonstration in Gyumri on March 28. Another Gyumri oppositionist got a suspended one-year jail term.

Two other, more prominent opposition activists, Aramazd Zakarian and Zhora Sapeyan of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party were released late on Tuesday. Both men were arrested in early April for “publicly insulting” senior government officials, a charge dismissed by the opposition as politically motivated.

A prosecutor involved in the investigation said the case against them was dropped after they admitted to the accusations. “Zakarian and Sapeyan repented and that is why their criminal prosecution was discontinued,” Aram Khachatrian told RFE/RL.

Both men denied admitting their guilt, however.

Law-enforcement sources told RFE/RL that two other prominent members of Hanrapetutyun, former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and Suren Sureniants, are also likely to be set free soon. They said among those pressing for their release is Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

("Haykakan Zhamanak" photo: Edgar Arakelian.)
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