Scores of activists gathered in Yerevan’s central Liberty Square on Wednesday night to mark the first anniversary of the arrest of protest leader Shant Harutiunian and his supporters.
Wearing masks of the so-called Anonymous group they also marched through central streets of the city, demanding the release of the 47-year-old leader of the little-known opposition Tseghakron party and 11 other men who were convicted and sentenced to prison terms last month on charges stemming from their actions during last year’s demonstration.
Eight activists were briefly detained by police for “violating the rules of the use of public places” during tonight’s demonstration. The police said they face fines of between 20,000 and 60,000 drams (about $50-$150).
On November 5, 2013, Harutiunian led a march towards President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices in what he described as a “revolution of values.” Police used force to stop the crowd armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades from approaching the presidential compound. Dozens of activists were arrested after clashes with police. Harutiunian and 11 other men were eventually charged in connection with the incident in which dozens were injured, including four police officers.
The trial of the activists began in June and virtually all of the defendants pleaded not guilty to the hooliganism charges which Mnatsakan Martirosian, the presiding judge who rarely challenged prosecutors, eventually found substantiated.
On October 17, the court handed prison sentences ranging from 1 to 7 years to the activists, with Harutiunian sentenced to 6 years in jail. Harutiunian’s 15-year-old son Shahen, who avoided pre-trial arrest, received a suspended 4-year sentence on the same charges of “hooliganism”.
Opposition groups and leading human rights activists in Armenia condemned the court rulings, describing Harutiunian and others as political prisoners.
The lawyers of the activists said they will appeal the verdicts and the sentences passed against their clients at a higher court.