By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they have identified and will put on trial two men on charges of attacking journalists during an opposition rally in Yerevan on April 5.
A statement by the Office of Prosecutor-General said the suspects have been questioned and “confessed” their participation in the unprecedented rampage widely blamed on the authorities.
The unsanctioned street protest staged by the opposition National Unity Party (AMK) was nearly disrupted by about two dozen men who hurled eggs at its leader Artashes Geghamian and set off firecrackers. Photojournalists covering the rally filmed the attempted disruption only to have their video and still cameras smashed by the well-built thugs.
Eyewitnesses, among them an RFE/RL correspondent, say scores of police officers led by General Hovannes Varian stood nearby and looked on as the ugly scene unfolded. Their conspicuous refusal to intervene prompted speculation that the violence was engineered by the Armenian authorities. Some media reports have described the attackers as bodyguards of prominent government-linked businessmen.
The authorities, faced with a domestic and international outcry, have denied any involvement and vowed to investigate the incident. Police and prosecutors have already questioned most of the journalists attacked by the thugs.
The two suspects were identified as Ashot Avetisian and Hrair Harutiunian. The latter has been recognized by a correspondent for the “Aravot” daily, Anna Israelian, as the man who stole her camera and knocked her to the ground.
Yerevan’s chief prosecutor, Hrachya Badalian, told RFE/RL that Avetisian and Harutiunian will likely be charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with “hooliganism.” The charges will carry up to five years in prison. Badalian said they will not be kept in detention before the trial.
(Photo: Some of the men pictured moments before assaulting journalists.)