Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Monday upheld controversial prison sentences for a prominent political activist and 11 other men who were arrested during a violent anti-government demonstration in Yerevan in late 2013.
The defendants led by Shant 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.
The arrested men as well as Harutiunian’s 16-year-old son Shahen went on trial in June 2014, with virtually all of them pleading not guilty to the accusations of hooliganism. A district court in Yerevan sentenced them to between 1 and 7 years in prison in October.
Harutiunian was jailed for 6 years while his son received a suspended 4-year sentence. The defendants appealed against what they see as politically motivated verdicts.
The Court of Appeals refused to strike down or even soften the rulings. Relatives of the defendants reacted angrily to its decision, chanting “Shame!” in the courtroom.
Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, was also present at the final court session on the appeals. The U.S.-born former lawyer demonstratively turned his back on the panel of three judges and walked out of the courtroom mid-way through the announcement of the verdict.
Zharangutyun and other major opposition groups consider Harutiunian and his comrades political prisoners. The Armenian authorities deny, however, any political motives behind their prosecution.
Ara Zohrabian, Harutiunian’s lawyer, insisted that the court rulings in the case were ordered by the authorities. He said his client and the other defendants will now appeal to the higher Court of Cassation.