A controversial activist who pledged to topple the government and 13 other arrested men faced lengthy prison sentences on Friday after being formally charged in connection with their clashes with riot police in Yerevan earlier this week.
The Armenian police said that Shant Harutiunian, the leader of a small nationalist party called Tseghakron, stands accused of resorting to “dangerous violence” against police officers. A police spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the other detainees were charged under the same article of the Criminal Code carrying between five and ten years’ imprisonment.
The police also decided to free the six other anti-government men who have been kept under arrest since Tuesday’s violent clashes in downtown Yerevan.
The violence erupted moments after several dozen men led by Harutiunian and armed with sticks, homemade stun grenades and stones attempted to march to key government buildings in the Armenian capital. Harutiunian vowed to seize them during a nearly weeklong sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square.
The veteran activist and his arrested comrades, virtually all of them young men, are likely to deny the charges. Their supporters blame the violence, which left several policemen injured, on government “provocateurs.”
One of those supporters, a 21-year-old man called Sedrak, insisted that Harutiunian never intended to attack the police. He said he took part in Tuesday’s demonstration because of his strong support for regime change in Armenia.
Sedrak seemed undecided about legitimate methods of political struggle against the current government. “In any case, Shant’s statements were unrealistic,” he said. “He could not have done a revolution with a dozen men.”