An Armenian law-enforcement agency said on Wednesday that it has indicted eight more people in connection with last week’s violent protests in the northern Tavush province against a government ban on unauthorized logging.
A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Naira Harutiunian, said none of them was arrested after being charged with hooliganism and violent assault on law-enforcement officers. They signed instead written pledges not to leave their places of residence pending investigation, Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The Investigative Committee brought the same criminal charges against 13 other individuals at the weekend. Ten of the suspects were remanded in pre-trial custody.
The charges stem from the July 17 clashes between riot police and several hundred people who blocked a highway passing through the provincial capital Ijevan in protest against government efforts to stop illegal logging in the area. Security forces were pelted with stones and hit by sticks as they unblocked the highway leading to Armenia’s main border crossing with Georgia. A dozen policemen and at least two civilians were hospitalized as a result.
The chief of the Armenian police, Valeri Osipian, said on Wednesday that law-enforcement authorities believe a total of 36 persons “committed hooligan acts and inflicted injuries on police officers” during the dispersal of the protest.
“We are not confining ourselves to these 36 individuals,” Osipian told a news conference. He suggested in that regard that the unrest might have been organized by other people who have “for years enriched themselves by illegally destroying forests.”
Osipian also made clear that the authorities are determined to put an end to illegal logging blamed for Armenia’s post-Soviet deforestation. “We will no longer tolerate this vicious and unacceptable practice in Ijevan or any other place in the country,” he said.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who was born and raised in Ijevan, has likewise pledged to stamp out illegal logging “in the most resolute manner.”
The angry protesters in Ijevan 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.