The owner of a TV channel critical of Armenia’s government faced arrest on Friday after being charged with assaulting another man at the start of former President Robert Kocharian’s trial in Yerevan.
Vardges Gaspari, a well-known activist, was confronted by Kocharian supporters inside a court building on Monday after holding up a poster that branded the ex-president a “murderer.” One of them wrested the poster and ripped it up.
Gaspari, who is known for staging lone protests against the country’s former governments, says that he was also hit in the face by a plastic bottle.
Several Kocharian backers were briefly detained and questioned by police later on Monday. Among them was Armen Tavadian, the official owner of the pro-Kocharian Fifth Channel.
A spokeswoman the Investigative Committee, Naira Harutiunian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Tavadian was formally charged with grave hooliganism. She said the law-enforcement body also asked a court in Yerevan to allow his pre-trial arrest.
Tavadian, who will risk up to five years in prison if convicted, dismissed the accusation as “incomprehensible” when he spoke to reporters. “That is why I refused to testify,” he said. “I understand that they accuse me of being in the court building on that day,” he said.
“They tried to put pressure on me so I give some testimony,” claimed the suspect. “How can I testify if I don’t understand what I’m accused of?”
Tavadian’s lawyer, Narek Aloyan, described the indictment as an act of “political persecution.” Aloyan said the court will open hearings on his client’s arrest late on Friday or Saturday.
Kocharian’s supports packed the small courtroom during the first four sessions of his high-profile trial.
Also, dozens of his loyalists as well as detractors demonstrated outside the court building on a daily basis, shouting insults at each other. The former accused the authorities of prosecuting Kocharian for political reasons while the latter blamed him for the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan, which left ten people dead. The rival groups were kept apart by riot police.