The Armenian police have downgraded their controversial criminal case against an opposition activist who was arrested last November during clashes with security forces in Yerevan.
Shant Harutiunian, a veteran nationalist figure, was confronted by riot police as he led several dozen protesters armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades. They tried to march towards the presidential administration building in what Harutiunian called an anti-government “revolution.” Harutiunian and 13 other men were arrested on the spot and subsequently accused of assaulting police officers.
Harutiunian’s lawyer, Inessa Petrosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the police investigators have dropped this accusation carrying between 5 and 10 years in prison and charged her client with hooliganism. Under the Armenian Criminal Code, violent disruption of public order is punishable by between 4 and 7 years’ imprisonment.
Petrosian downplayed the easing of the case against Harutiunian, saying that he still stands unjustly accused of committing a grave crime. “Shant Harutiunian and the others did not intend to disrupt public order,” she said. “Everyone knows that.”
The lawyer added that the jailed activist continues to consider himself a political prisoner and still refuses to give any pre-trial testimony. The Armenian authorities have repeatedly denied any political motives behind the case.
In late December, Harutiunian and two other detainees went on a two-week hunger strike in protest against investigators’ refusal to allow their relatives to visit or talk to them by phone. The ban was lifted shortly after they ended the protest.