Levon Yeranosian, the controversial former commander of Armenian interior troops, went on trial on Tuesday, accused of using excessive force against anti-government protesters during last year’s “velvet revolution.”
The accusations of abuse of power, denied by Yeranosian, stem from two violent incidents that occurred during demonstrations led by Nikol Pashinian.
On April 16, 2018, Pashinian and hundreds of his supporters tried to break through a police cordon and approach the parliament building in Yerevan in a bid to prevent the country’s longtime leader, Serzh Sarkisian, from holding on to power. Security forces used stun grenades and batons to stop the crowd.
Investigators have said that Yeranosian personally threw four stun grenades in a way that violated safety standards set for such “special means” of crowd control. More than 40 persons were reportedly injured as a result.
According to Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), Yeranosian again mishandled stun grenades six days later when Pashinian and his top associates were detained while leading another demonstration elsewhere in Yerevan.
Pashinian was released the day after his arrest, hours before Sarkisian announced his resignation. The Armenian parliament elected him prime minister on May 8, 2018. Pashinian fired Yeranosian a few days later.
In a written statement circulated shortly before the start of his trial, Yeranosian again pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that his and his subordinates’ actions were “legitimate.”
“Those actions prevented mass clashes between demonstrators and police forces,” he said, adding that they also made possible the “smooth and peaceful transfer of power” to Pashinian.
Yeranosian’s lawyer, Tigran Safarian, asked the presiding judge to interrogate Pashinian as well as the current chief of the Armenian police Valeri Osipian, and a former deputy police chief, Hunan Poghosian, at the trial.
Osipian was a deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department during the revolution. He personally escorted and frequently argued with Pashinian during the protest movement.
Armenian human rights groups and media have for years accused Yeranosian of serious human rights violations. In particular, he was accused of personally sanctioning violent attacks on journalists that covered anti-government protests in 2015 and 2016.