Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Armenia’s second most important governing party also heading the National Olympic Committee, has pledged to ask President Serzh Sarkisian to show clemency to a former prominent boxer arrested following a recent opposition rally in Yerevan.
Samson Khachatrian, who is affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), was charged with assaulting police officers during the March 1 protest.
Khachatrian’s lawyers and the HAK leadership reject the charges as politically motivated. They say he only tried to stop a group of plainclothes men hitting peaceful demonstrators.
In a joint statement issued last week, about 70 retired prominent Armenian athletes also condemned Khachatrian’s prosecution as baseless and demanded his immediate release.
But Nerses Nazarian, the chief of the Yerevan police, defended the controversial arrest on Friday. “I won’t allow Samson Khachatrian to use his fists for hitting a policeman or anybody else,” he said.
Speaking to journalists the next day, Tsarukian expressed concern about the case, arguing that Khachatrian was “one of our best athletes.” “His party affiliation doesn’t matter,” he said. “As chairman of the National Olympic Committee, I must be concerned with that issue.”
“We are going to appeal to the president of the republic to make sure that there is a mild approach, if possible. [Khachatrian] is respected by the entire sport community,” added the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
HAK representatives dismissed Tsarukian’s pledge, saying that the oppositionist is innocent and should be cleared of any wrongdoing altogether. “If a person is innocent, why should he get mild treatment?” one of them, Gagik Jahangirian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Mild treatment is given to a criminal who repents his crime … An innocent person must be acquitted.”
Khachatrian was arrested and prosecuted a week before the release of two more HAK members who were arrested following Armenia’s disputed 2008 presidential election. Several other oppositionists jailed three years ago remain behind bars.