One of the organizers of last summer’s rallies held in support of radical opposition gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan on Monday described as deeply flawed the criminal investigation into his actions during the unrest.
Andrias Ghukasian alleged numerous violations of the due process ahead of his trial on charges of inciting riots during the July 2016 standoff between the gunmen and security forces. “This is political persecution,” he declared.
Ghukasian and other opposition activists led protesters to the city’s Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the seized police facility late on July 29, 2016. Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them after they refused to march back to the city center.
Several organizers of the protest were arrested and charged with provoking “mass disturbances.” All of them except Ghukasian were released on bail in the following weeks. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) alleges that Ghukasian also planned to have the protesters break through a police cordon, join the gunmen demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and thus prolong the standoff which left three police officers dead.
Ghukasian and his lawyer, Karen Mezhlumian, reject the accusations, saying that they are based on false testimony given by a man linked to the police. They say the testimony runs counter to videos of the July 2016 protests featuring Ghukasian.
The activist has alleged serious procedural violations which he says must make evidence cited by the SIS investigators null and void. He submitted a corresponding complaint to the court this month.
Court hearings on the appeal will continue even after the start of Ghukasian’s trial slated for Wednesday.
More than 60 people were injured and hospitalized in the Sari Tagh violence. In a January report, Human Rights Watch 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.