An Armenian law-enforcement agency has pressed criminal charges against 13 men arrested after last week’s violent clashes between riot police and people protesting against a government ban on unauthorized logging in the northern Tavush province.
The clashes broke out in the provincial capital Ijevan late on July 17 as several hundred protesters defied police orders to unblock a major highway passing through the town. A dozen police officers and at least two civilians were hospitalized as a result.
The Investigative Committee announced on Monday that the arrested men have been formally charged with hooliganism and violent assault on law-enforcement officers. They will risk between four and seven years in prison if convicted.
A statement by the Investigative Committee said 10 of the suspects were remanded in pre-trial custody while the three others were set free pending investigation. It said investigators have also arrested another man as part of the ongoing inquiry.
A spokeswoman for the committee, Naira Harutiunian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that law-enforcement authorities are also continuing to hunt for 11 other individuals suspected of involvement in the unrest.
Relatives of at least some of the indicted men have said that the latter did not commit violent acts and are unjustly prosecuted.
The mother of Vahram Simonian, an arrested Ijevan resident, insisted on Monday that he did not participate in the demonstration. She claimed that Simonian and his father and brother found themselves at the site of protest only because they got stuck in a traffic jam in their car.
Simonian’s lawyer, Ara Gharagyozian, said, for his part, that the case against his client is based only on incriminating testimony given by another person.
The Armenian police deployed hundreds of officers in Ijevan during and after the unrest. The national police chief, Valeri Osipian, defended the use of force against the protesters when he visited the town on July 18.
The protests erupted after authorities moved to stop illegal logging in Tavush forests, which has been widespread for over two decades. The angry protesters accused the Armenian government of depriving them of their sole source of income.
Government officials counter that the country’s deforestation has reached dangerous levels. They also say that commercial logging has primarily benefited a small number of timber traders.