The Armenian police said on Monday that they have identified first suspects in a recent series of violent attacks on civil society activists critical of the government.
A police statement said that two men came forward at the weekend to admit involvement in the August 25 assault on Mihran Markarian and Babken Ter-Grigorian, two of the youth activists holding a sit-in outside the Yerevan Mayor’s Office to demand the sacking of municipal officials in charge of public transport.
The statement did not specify whether the men, identified only by their last names, were charged or detained as a result. Nor it give any other details.
Markarian and Ter-Grigorian say they were surrounded and beaten up by a dozen thugs as they left the scene of the ongoing protest late in the evening. Four other participants of the sit-in claim to have also been attacked in similar circumstances in late August and early this month. They have accused the municipal and law-enforcement authorities of orchestrating the violence to end the nearly two-month campaign.
Two other, more prominent activists, Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian, were beaten up and hospitalized late on September 5 shortly after participating in a demonstration against the Armenian government’s decision to join a Russian-led customs union. Both men have alleged political motives behind the attack.
The police said on Saturday that they have finally opened a formal criminal case in connection with it. The announcement followed strong condemnations of the violent incidents voiced by the United States, the European Union and international watchdogs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele publicly expressed concern during a visit to Yerevan on Friday.
Sona Ayvazian, the director of the Armenian branch of Transparency International, linked the launch of criminal proceedings with the Western criticism. But she was skeptical about the punishment of those involved in the violence.
“The authorities rely on criminal elements in holding on to power. We therefore we have no big expectations,” Ayvazian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The police statement rejected allegations that the police are doing nothing to solve those cases. It said the national police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, is personally overseeing the ongoing criminal investigations. It also said that the police have taken “preventive” measures to ensure the safety of civic activists taking part in anti-government protests.