Armenian law-enforcement authorities have levelled new and more serious criminal charges against one of the organizers of last summer’s rallies held in support of gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.
A lawyer for the arrested opposition activist Andrias Ghukasian said on Thursday that his client now stands accused of not only organizing riots but also attempting to seize state buildings, take hostages and illegally acquire weapons and explosives. Under Armenian law, such crimes are punishable by a total of more than ten years in prison.
Ghukasian and other activists led anti-government protesters to the Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the seized station late on July 29. Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them after they refused to march back to the city center.
Ghukasian and three senior members of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party were arrested and charged with provoking “mass disturbances.” All of them except Ghukasian were released on bail in the following weeks. The oppositionists deny the accusations as politically motivated.
According to Ghukasian’s attorney, Karen Mezhlumian, investigators now claim that the oppositionist organized the Sari Tagh demonstration to try to break through a police cordon and join the gunmen demanding regime change. Mezhlumian dismissed these accusations as “absurd.” He said that Ghukasian and other protest organizers on the contrary prevented “provocateurs” from getting the angry crowd to enter the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district.
“They accuse [Ghukasian] of something to which he strongly objected,” Mezhlumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). The lawyer insisted that his client advocated solely peaceful actions and voiced only “moral support” for the gunmen during the two-week Erebuni standoff.
Ghukasian’s wife, Anahit Tarkhanian, described the additional charges as government retribution for his decision to run in the April 2 parliamentary elections as a candidate of the opposition ORO alliance. During the election campaign Ghukasian issued statements from prison criticizing the authorities.
More than 60 people were injured and hospitalized in the Sari Tagh violence. In a January report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the use of force against the protesters was “excessive and disproportionate.” The New York-based watchdog also said that the authorities have failed to properly punish law-enforcement officials who committed human rights abuses during the crackdown.