By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian prosecutors called on Tuesday for a 2.5-year imprisonment of an opposition supporter who hurled a plastic bottle at a senior police officer during the violent dispersal of an anti-government rally in Yerevan last month.
The punishment was demanded at the start of the politically charged trial of Edgar Arakelian, a 24-year-old resident of the town of Lusakert about 20 kilometers north of the capital.
Arakelian was among dozens of people arrested for their participation in the April 12-13 demonstration on Marshal Baghramian Avenue leading to President Robert Kocharian’s official residence. Scores of others were injured when the baton-wielding riot police used water cannons, stun grenades and, according to some witness accounts, electric-shock equipment to break up the protest. The “excessive use of police force” was condemned by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Arakelian was filmed by a police camera hitting an interior troops colonel with the plastic bottle. The footage was repeatedly shown on state television. He was initially charged with attempting to “usurp state power.” The accusation was later downgraded to an assault on a state official that “does not endanger their life and health.” A corresponding clause in Armenia’s criminal code carries up to five years in prison.
The trial prosecutor, Aram Amirzadian, demanded the 30-month jail term amid cries of protest and curses from the defendant’s supporters and relatives who packed a court of first instance in central Yerevan. Arakelian’s mother fainted in the courtroom after hearing the suggested punishment.
The commotion led the presiding judge, Pargev Ohanian, to call a 10-minute break in the proceedings. He later announced through a secretary that the trial will resume on Wednesday.
In his court testimony, Arakelian admitted throwing the light object at the officer, but said he did so after the police sprayed him with tear gas and hit him in the face with a riot shield. He alleged that he was humiliated and beaten up in custody by investigators from the police and the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
In Arakelian’s words, a senior prosecutor, Andranik Mirzoyan, tried to force him to sign a confession stating that he acted on orders from opposition leaders Artashes Geghamian and Stepan Demirchian. “Prosecutor Mirzoyan told me to testify against Artashes Geghamian and Stepan Demirchian,” the defendant said. “They kept emphasizing the two men’s names during the interrogations.
“I said, ‘How can I write something like that and look those men in the eyes afterward?’. He said, ‘Are you afraid of Geghamian? See that window? He is now giving testimony there on his knees’.”
Mirzoyan strongly denied the claims. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said that he had no involvement in the criminal case against Arakelian.
Mirzoyan, who heads the investigations department at the Prosecutor-General’s Office, was embroiled in a similar controversy late last year when a man convicted of plotting to assassinate Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said that he tried to implicate Geghamian in the alleged conspiracy. Levon Abrahamian, a former National Security Service officer, claimed during his trial that Mirzoyan promised to set him free in return for a false testimony against Geghamian. The prosecutors shrugged off the claims.
Meanwhile, the officer attacked by Arakelian, Sahak Martirosian, also appeared before the court, asking the judge to show clemency for the defendant. “Please treat the defendant as mildly as possible,” he said at the end of his cross-examination.
Arakelian is one of 14 opposition activists and supporters arrested and still kept in jail since the start of the opposition campaign for Kocharian’s resignation two months ago. The opposition regards them as “political prisoners.” Among them are former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and several other senior members of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party. One of them, Suren Sureniants, went on hunger strike on May in protest against his and his comrades’ prosecution.