By Karine Kalantarian
Three men who claim to have been President Serzh Sarkisian’s election proxies were sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Wednesday for looting a Yerevan shop during the March 1 clashes between police and opposition protesters.
The Criminal Court in Yerevan convicted Hovannes Mnatsakanian, Armen Grigorian and Yuri Ghukasian of stealing 648,000 drams ($2,125) worth of goods and video surveillance and recording equipment from a shoe store in the city center. They all pleaded guilty to the accusations.
Mnatsakanian got a suspended sentence and walked free in the court. But the two other defendants, both of them residents of the southern town of Artashat, were sent to prison.
The three men, who have past criminal records, were among several dozen persons arrested following the worst street violence in Armenia’s history which left at least ten people dead. The deadly clashes broke out when security forces tried to disperse thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who barricaded themselves on a vast street intersection outside the Yerevan mayor’s office.
The clashes, resulting in a police retreat from the scene, were followed by the looting of several nearby shops and the burning of dozens of police and civilian cars. Organizers of the protest have disavowed these acts, blaming them on government “provocateurs.”
During the trial the self-confessed looters asserted that unlike the vast majority of the detainees they are not supporters of Ter-Petrosian. They claimed that they not only voted for Sarkisian but worked as his proxies during the February 19 presidential election.
Meanwhile, another Yerevan court unexpectedly set free on Wednesday an opposition activist arrested during the March 1 break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s tent camp in Yerevan’s Liberty Square which preceded the late-night deadly clashes. Khachik Ghazarian was charged with resisting riot police. He was given a suspended two-year prison sentence despite protesting his innocence.
Virtually all of about two dozen other oppositionists prosecuted on the same charge received suspended jail terms in return for pleading guilty to the accusations.
Ghazarian’s lawyer, Amalia Avagian, said her client may appeal the verdict despite regaining his freedom.