An Armenian prosecutor asked a court in Yerevan on Friday to sentence an opposition activist to two and a half years in prison on controversial charges of assaulting a police officer during an anti-government protest.
Gevorg Safarian was among dozens of members of the opposition New Armenia Public Salvation Front who scuffled with riot police as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square early on January 1, 2016. Safarian was arrested and accused of assaulting one of the officers, a charge he and New Armenia reject as politically motivated. He went on trial a few months later.
In his concluding remarks, the trial prosecutor, Vahe Dolmazian, said law-enforcement authorities have proved that Safarian punched and knocked down the policeman, Gegham Khachatrian, during the incident. He said the alleged assault posed a “great public danger.”
Safarian reacted sarcastically to the demand. “The kind prosecutor did not demand 10 years. I’m very grateful,” he told reporters in the courtroom.
The defendant’s relatives and supporters condemned the jail term sought by the prosecutor. “This is absurd,” said his mother. “This punishment is meant to intimidate the people.”
The high-profile case against Safarian is based on incriminating testimony given by Khachatrian and several other policemen. Video of the incident released by New Armenia does not show, however, the activist assaulting the officer. Dolmazian downplayed this fact, saying that the footage may have been doctored.
The policeman in question caused controversy shortly before the Liberty Square clash. In a Facebook post, he branded New Armenia activists “monkeys.”
In a January statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Safarian’s pre-trial arrest as “wholly unjustified.” The New York-based watchdog said he is prosecuted for his political views and should therefore be released from custody.