By Emil Danielyan
One of the Armenian opposition activists arrested following last February’s disputed presidential election was sentenced to six years in prison on Monday for allegedly assaulting and injuring police officers during street clashes in Yerevan.
Aram Bareghamian, head of an opposition party chapter in the central town of Hrazdan, went into hiding following the deadly March 1 unrest and was tracked down and arrested by the police eight days later. He was charged with assaulting law-enforcement officials and organizing unsanctioned demonstrations against official vote results.
Yerevan’s Criminal Court acquitted Bareghamian of the latter charge but found prosecutors’ assault claims, based on police officers’ testimony, substantiated, ignoring the defendant’s protestations of innocence. Bareghamian’s lawyer condemned the verdict as unfair and politically motivated.
The verdict came just two weeks after the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) demanded that the Armenian authorities stop jailing supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on the basis of incriminating testimony given by police officers. “A verdict based solely on a single police testimony without corroborating evidence or independent witnesses cannot be acceptable,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Other Armenian courts likewise ignored the PACE resolution earlier this month when they prolonged the pre-trial arrest of other, more prominent, opposition figures charged with “usurpation of state power” and “incitement to mass disturbances.” The resolution cast doubt on the credibility of such accusations, saying that they should be dropped “unless there is strong evidence that these persons have personally committed acts of violence or serious other criminal offences.”
According to state prosecutors, Bareghamian assaulted the policemen in the afternoon of March 1, several hours before the outbreak of pitched battles between opposition protesters and riot troops, in which at least ten people were killed. They demanded an eight-year prison sentence for him. The resulting court verdict marked the harshest of the punishments given so far to Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested in connection with the March 1 unrest.
According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, 21 other persons were tried and sentenced to between one and five years, while another 25 oppositionists received suspended jail terms earlier. Only five detainees were acquitted by courts. More than 50 others remain in custody pending trial.