The outspoken video blogger, Narek Malian, was confronted by members of a youth group called Restart in March 2019. A video of the incident showed the Restart leader, Davit Petrosian, and several other men forcibly carrying him along a street in downtown Yerevan before being stopped by police officers.
The men said afterwards that they wanted to throw Malian into a trash container in response to his “slanderous” statements about Restart. As Petrosian explained at the time, they tried to “put the garbage in its place.”
Petrosian and five other men were detained during the incident but set free a few hours later. They were charged with attempted kidnapping, with prosecutors demanding suspended prison sentences for them during their subsequent trial.
The judge presiding over the trial, Davit Harutiunian, cleared the defendants of the accusation in a verdict handed down earlier this week.
Yuri Avagian, one of the defendants and Restart’s current leader, defended their actions, saying that they did not constitute a kidnapping attempt or even hooliganism and were aimed at ending the use of insults in Armenian political discourse. Avagian claimed that he and his comrades did not cause Malian any “physical or psychological” harm.
Malian condemned the verdict and said he will appeal it. He accused the presiding judge of bowing to pressure from what he called Armenian followers of U.S. billionaire George Soros.
“The purpose of recruiting and creating that group financed by oligarch Soros is to silence dissidents through violence and to impose their agenda on people defying their network,” he charged in a statement released on Wednesday.
Malian, who had worked as an adviser to former Armenian police chief Vladimir Gasparian, earlier blamed the Armenian branch of Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) for the 2019 attack. OSF-Armenia condemned the attack and strongly denied any responsibility for it.
Speaking in March 2019, the then OSF-Armenia director, Larisa Minasian, confirmed that Restart received a $20,000 grant from her organization. But she insisted that the funding was only meant to support the group’s stated efforts to make the Yerevan State University administration more accountable to students.
Restart appears to have also received funding from the European Union. The head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Andrea Wiktorin, praised the organization in February this year when she addressed an event marking the fourth anniversary of its creation. Wiktorin said that Restart “upholds the rights of students across Armenia and promotes critical thinking and youth participation in policy making.”
Members of the group actively participated in the 2018 “velvet revolution” that brought Nikol Pashinian to power. By contrast, Malian has been very scathing about the dramatic regime change. He has lambasted the Armenian prime minister and poured scorn on his supporters on social media.