Opposition activist Shant Harutiunian and his supporters who were sentenced to prison earlier this month over clashes with riot police during last year’s anti-government protest intend to file appeals against the verdicts, it emerged on Tuesday.
On October 17, a court in Yerevan handed prison sentences ranging from 1 to 7 years to Harutiunian and 11 other men who were arrested on November 5, 2013 and faced accusations of “attempting to stage a revolution”.
Harutiunian’s 15-year-old son, who avoided pre-trial arrest, received a suspended 4-year sentence on the same charges of “hooliganism” which Armenian human rights campaigners and some opposition groups regard as politically motivated.
The defendants led by Harutiunian, a veteran nationalist activist, were among several dozen protesters who tried to march towards President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices in what their flamboyant leader called a “revolution of values.” Police used force to stop the crowd armed with sticks and homemade stun grenades from approaching the presidential palace after rallying in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to denounce a government which they consider corrupt and undemocratic.
Virtually all of the arrested activists pleaded not guilty to the hooliganism charges which Mnatsakan Martirosian, the presiding judge who rarely challenged prosecutors during the trial, eventually found substantiated.
One defendant, Vahe Mkrtchian, was also convicted of assaulting police officers and received the harshest punishment: 7 years in prison. Shant Harutiunian and another man got 6-year jail terms. Seven others were sentenced to between 4 and 5.5 years’ imprisonment.
Lawyers of the convicted activists got the 136-page verdict of the judge only on Monday. They said they had found numerous violations in the document that led them to believe that “the verdict was passed not by the judge but by someone else.”
Inessa Petrosian, who representatives the interests of Harutiunian, said they will appeal the verdict and sentence in the coming days.
“We have a one-month period in which to file the appeal. I think that at the Court of Appeal the case will proceed more quickly and will be heard within a month. As you saw, in the lower court the case was heard in a rapid manner, and you saw with what speed the verdict was passed – an unprecedented speed for such a complex case,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
At the Court of Appeal the lawyers are going to demand that their clients be acquitted.
Petrosian thinks that the noise raised after the decision of the lower court may also have an influence on the Court of Appeal that will be “instructed” to make a milder decision regarding the activists.
Lawyer Ara Zakarian, meanwhile, claimed that it is President Serzh Sarkisian who “instructs” the court and nothing will change before he “instructs” otherwise.
“It is obvious for me that if the president of the Republic of Armenia has expressed such a position on this case, the court system will not dare to make any other decision until the president either publically or through internal channels expresses an opinion about changing the decision,” Zakarian said.
President Sarkisian defended the high-profile case during a recent visit to the United States. Speaking at a question-and-answer session in New York’s Columbia University several weeks before the verdict was passed by the court, Sarkisian referred to Harutiunian and his arrested supporters as “criminals.” The remark prompted strong protests from the defendants’ lawyers, who accused the president of violating their clients’ presumption of innocence and pressuring the court to find them guilty.