Following a one-day trial, a district court in the Armenian capital gave Samson Khachatrian a suspended one-year prison sentence on charges which he and the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) say are politically motivated.
Khachatrian was arrested shortly after an HAK rally that was held in downtown Yerevan on March 1. Police claimed that he attacked two plainclothes police officers present at the protest.
Both policemen insisted on this version of events in the court. They also claimed they showed their police IDs to Khachatrian before being punched and injured by him.
The oppositionist, who was a renowned Soviet boxer in the 1970s and 1980s, strongly denied that, saying that they never presented themselves as police officers. He also insisted that he only sought to stop these men hitting and verbally abusing female demonstrators.
While demanding his acquittal, Khachatrian, who underwent heart surgery four months ago, urged the presiding judge, Mkhitar Papoyan, not to take his health condition into account. “I’m healthy and will fight till the end,” he said.
Papoyan’s verdict was greeted with rapturous applause and “Samson!” chants by opposition supporters present in the courtroom. They carried away Khachatrian on their shoulders. Dozens of other sympathizers cheered him outside the court.
The HAK leadership has repeatedly condemned Khachatrian’s prosecution and demanded his immediate release. The demand was echoed by about 70 retired prominent Armenian athletes in a joint statement issued late last month.
Earlier this month, Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of Armenia’s second most important governing party also heading the National Olympic Committee, asked President Serzh Sarkisian to show clemency to Khachatrian.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Khachatrian said he will actively participate in further demonstrations planned by the HAK. “If, God forbid, such an incident happens again, I will act in the same way,” he said.