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Opposition Youth Avoids Jail Due To Amnesty


Armenia -- Vahagn Gevorgian, a member of opposition youth movement 'Hima' ('Now') in front of the court building, 12Sep2009

Armenia -- Vahagn Gevorgian, a member of opposition youth movement 'Hima' ('Now') in front of the court building, 12Sep2009

A young opposition activist was sentenced to one year in prison at the weekend for allegedly assaulting a police officer during an opposition gathering in Yerevan in April.

But Vahagn Gevorgian, 18, will not have to serve the sentence because of a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities in June. He said he will nonetheless appeal against what he considers an illegal and politically motivated verdict.

The accusations stem from an incident that occurred on Yerevan’s Northern Avenue, which was until recently the scene of daily gatherings of 100-200 supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. Gevorgian, who is a member of the opposition youth movement Hima (Now) supporting Ter-Petrosian, was detained there on April 10 as riot police forcibly ended the more than yearlong gatherings.

Gevorgian was subsequently charged with insulting and assaulting one of the police officers at the scene. A police indictment submitted to a court in Yerevan claimed that the policemen decided to detain the young oppositionist after he ignored their demands to stop making “obscene comments” about young women strolling along the pedestrian boulevard.

The defendant strongly denied the accusations during the trial. His lawyer, Vartuhi Elbakian, pointed to opposition video of the incident which she said disproved the police claims. However, the court refused to examine the footage and, in what has been a pattern in cases involving jailed Ter-Petrosian loyalists, found the police testimony trustworthy.

The guilty verdict did not take Gevorgian by surprise. “In the last one and a half years, no political trial ended with a fair verdict,” he said after its announcement.

“This is a puppet theater,” charged his father, prominent opposition journalist Hayk Gevorgian. “Somebody from above managed this and other political trials.”

Gevorgian said the fact that the young oppositionist is his son was a major factor behind his prosecution. “Two days before that incident he was also taken to the police along with a few other boys,” the journalist told RFE/RL. “After the media reported whose son Vahagn Gevorgian is, he was detained in earnest.”

The April incident was not the only case of Vahagn Gevorgian getting in trouble with the police. He and other young oppositionists were confronted by plainclothes officers as they handed out leaflets ahead of just about every major rally held by Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) in Yerevan this year.

Three of those activists were injured and required hospitalization after one such incident in early July. They said they were punched, kicked and pistol-whipped for informing Yerevan residents about the rally. One of them, Tigran Arakelian, was subsequently arrested and charged with assault.

Arakelian, who is facing up to five years in prison, went on a hunger strike in a prison hospital in Yerevan last week to demand his release from prison. He is still refusing food despite a reportedly serious deterioration of his health condition. The case against him is also based on police testimony.
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