The incident was part of a bigger brawl that broke out when Vahe Hakobian of the opposition Hayastan bloc criticized the Armenian government’s five-year policy program during a heated session of the parliament attended by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Hakobian interrupted his speech before being approached by three deputies from Pashinian’s Civil Contract party and kicked by one of them. He and five other Hayastan deputies, including deputy speaker Ishkhan Saghatelian, were hit by a larger number of Civil Contract lawmakers in an ensuing melee that was not swiftly stopped by scores of security personnel present in the chamber.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) pledged to look into the ugly scenes filmed by various media outlets. It launched afterwards a formal criminal investigation into the beating of only one Hayastan deputy, Gegham Manukian, prompting allegations of a cover-up from Armenia’s leading opposition force.
One of the video clips circulated on the Internet shows that Manukian was assaulted by Civil Contract’s Hayk Sargsian.
The SIS confirmed on Thursday that it has halted the probe and will not try to indict Sargsian. It claimed to have found no evidence of any criminal offence committed by him.
Manukian accused the law-enforcement agency of covering up the attacks which he said were incited by Pashinian. “The SIS is not compatible with Armenia’s laws and constitution,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Daniel Ioannisian of the Yerevan-based Union of Informed Citizens also criticized the SIS’s decision.
Ioannisian said the SIS failed to properly investigate and dispel suspicions that the brawl was pre-planned by the parliament’s pro-government majority. He claimed that Pashinian seemed to “bless” the violent conduct of his loyalists hours before the incident.
In a detailed analysis and a video clip posted on his Facebook page last month, Ioannisian named nine pro-government lawmakers involved in the violence. The civic activist also emphasized the fact that uniformed security officers waited for about a minute before stepping in to stop the violence.
Meanwhile, Sargsian again blamed the opposition. “With our actions we showed that we will not tolerate the use of force [in the parliament,]” he said.
Sargsian, whose twin brother Nairi is a senior aide to Pashinian, already avoided prosecution this summer for stealing the mobile phone of a journalist trying to interview him. Armenia’s leading media organizations expressed outrage at the SIS’s decision not to bring criminal charges against him.
Earlier this year, Sargsian wrested the microphone from another reporter who approached him in the parliament building.
Obstruction of journalistic work is a criminal offense in Armenia.