A presently unemployed man was sentenced to one year in prison on Wednesday in connection with last May’s explosion of thousands of balloons during an election campaign gathering held in Yerevan by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
A Yerevan court ruled that Serob Bozoyan, who sold the gas balloons to organizers of the event attended by President Serzh Sarkisian, is the only person responsible for the blasts that injured scores of people. The 54-year-old was found guilty of manufacturing and selling goods not meeting safety standards.
The balloons exploded in the city’s main Republic Square on May 4, two days before Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. More than 150 people were hospitalized with serious burns caused by the massive firewall. Some of them required plastic surgery.
Police investigators said afterwards that the white balloons emblazoned with HHK logos were filled with inflammable natural gas by several individuals at a single Yerevan apartment. Bozoyan was allegedly one of them. Only he was prosecuted on relevant charges.
Bozoyan pleaded guilty to the accusations during his trial that began on August 30. His lawyer, Karen Manucharian, urged the district court in the Armenian capital to give the defendant a suspended prison sentence. He argued in particular that Bozoyan was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery in 2009 and still needs medical treatment.
Manucharian also said his client had explained to the buyer of the 7,000 balloons how to safely use them and warned the latter of risks involved. He said the 770,000 drams ($1,900) paid for the balloons was not enough to fill them with helium, an inert gas that does not burn but is more expensive than natural gas.
The lawyer did not identify the buyer. “He [Bozoyan] won’t give any names,” he said. Bozoyan refused to speak to journalists after the announcement of the verdict.
The Armenian authorities have controversially declined to bring criminal charges against other individuals and, in particular, the organizers of the HHK event, which featured live performances by Armenian pop singers and a speech by Sarkisian. Independent media outlets and opposition politicians believe that the ruling party is also responsible for the explosions.
Some of the blast victims are of the same opinion. “I think that not only this person but also the organizers should be held accountable,” Venera, a young woman who suffered burns on her hands and face, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in the court.
Hakob Martirosian, the trial prosecutor, was visibly annoyed by lingering media questions about the HHK organizers’ role. “The buyer cannot be liable for such a crime,” he told reporters, citing the Armenian Criminal Code.
The verdict will come into effect within one month unless it is appealed by Bozoyan, meaning that he will not be incarcerated for now. According to Manucharian, he has not yet decided whether to file an appeal.