By Karine Kalantarian
Ignoring strong protests from human rights groups, an Armenian appeals court upheld on Wednesday the 18-month imprisonment of an opposition activist who threw a plastic bottle at a police officer during the brutal break-up of a recent anti-government demonstration.
The Review Court ruled on an appeal filed by Edgar Arakelian against the highly controversial verdict handed down by a lower court on May 26. After a short hearing the panel of three judges found the protest “unfounded,” saying that the 24-year-old was rightly convicted of “attacking a state official performing their duties.”
Arakelian’s lawyer and supporters dismissed the ruling as a travesty of justice and said they will take the case to the Court of Appeals, the highest body of criminal justice in Armenia. “Both the court hearing and the resulting verdict once again proved that Armenian citizens are not only unprotected by the state but also have no right of self-defense,” said Vartan Mkrtchian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Artarutyun alliance of which the defendant is a member.
A resident of a small town near Yerevan, Arakelian was among dozens of people arrested for their participation in the April 12-13 demonstration on Marshal Baghramian Avenue leading to President Robert Kocharian’s official residence. Scores of others were injured when the baton-wielding riot police used water cannons, stun grenades and, according to some witness accounts, electric-shock equipment to break up the protest.
Arakelian testified at his first trial that he pelted one of the police officers with a bottle of mineral water after being hit hard by security forces. He said he was later tortured in custody, with state prosecutors allegedly trying to get him to testify that the violence was orchestrated by the opposition leaders.
Arakelian is one of six opposition activists who have been sentenced to between 9 and 18 months in prison on criminal charges since the start of the opposition’s spring campaign for Kocharian’s resignation. All of them have been declared political prisoners by local human rights organizations.
About two dozen of their members picketed the court building where Arakelian’s case was heard, carrying the young man’s pictures and placards calling for his release. The protesters also held plastic bottles symbolizing their solidarity with him. “We are surrendering these plastic bottles to the court, we are laying down our weapons,” one of them, Lala Aslikian, said sarcastically.