Two men were sentenced to three years in prison and two others received suspended jail terms on Thursday for their alleged role in this summer’s clashes between riot police and supporters of opposition gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.
Hundreds of radical opposition supporters fought pitched battles with the police near the besieged police compound late on July 20. The angry crowd tried to break through a police cordon, hitting security forces and throwing stones at them. The police officers clad in riot gear pushed back and dispersed it, using shields, truncheons and stun grenades.
The police said that 46 officers were injured in the clashes that broke out three days after armed members of the Founding Parliament opposition movement seized the compound. The gunmen demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of their jailed leader, Zhirayr Sefilian.
The police detained dozens of people in the following hours. Some of them were subsequently prosecuted on charges of participating in “mass disturbances” and assaulting policemen.
Armenia - Riot police clash with demonstrators who had gathered in a show of support for gunmen holding several hostages in a police station in Yerevan, Armenia, July 20, 2016
The four young men convicted on Thursday denied the charges at the start of their trial. But they later pleaded guilty. Only two of them were set free as a result, with a Yerevan court giving them three-year suspended prison sentences.
The father of Hayk Hovannisian, one of the defendants who will remain behind bars, condemned the verdict, saying that it was ordered by Armenia’s political leadership. “The court only executes orders,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
According to Ara Papikian, a defense lawyer, many of the other men prosecuted in connection with the July 20 have also decided to plead guilty to the accusations in court in hopes of getting milder punishments. “We must understand the young men who have been in jail for months and want to regain their freedom as soon as possible, even through a suspended sentence or probation,” said Papikian.