Riot police detain a protester outside the Armenian Foreign Ministry building, May 31, 2024.

Armenian Protesters Freed without Charge

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By Naira Bughadarian, Gayane Saribekian and Artak Khulian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Twenty-seven supporters of Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan were set free on Monday, June 3, three days after being arrested during an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan that ended in scuffles with riot police.

They and hundreds of other demonstrators demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation rallied outside the Armenian Foreign Ministry to demand a meeting with Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan or other senior diplomats. Galstanyan said the ministry must explain its failure to respond to “humiliating” anti-Armenian statements made by Azerbaijan’s leaders.

Tensions at the scene rose after the top diplomats refused to receive Galstanyan and opposition lawmakers accompanying him, with security forces trying to push the crowd back from the ministry building. The protesters resisted, jostling with the policemen. Twenty-eight of them, including two other clergymen, were detained as a result.

One of them, Deacon Daniel Grevorgyan, was injured in the melee and taken to the hospital from a police station hours later. He said officers of a special police insulted and beat him before arresting him.

“They hit wherever they could,” Grevorgyan told reporters outside the Yerevan headquarters of Armenia’s Investigative Committee picketed by Galstanyan and his supporters on Monday morning. The protest leader demanded that the committee free the 27 other protesters remaining in detention and risking criminal charges.

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In a statement issued on the night of May 31, the law-enforcement agency described the incident outside the Foreign Ministry as “mass disturbances,” saying that protesters pelted the police with bottles, stones and other objects and called on the crowd to storm the building. But it eventually refrained from indicting any of the detained protesters, paving the way for their release.

Arsen Babayan, a lawyer collaborating with Galstanyan’s protest movement, said this fact “completely disproves” the investigators’ and Pashinyan allies’ claims about the violent behavior of the detainees.

Galstanyan also demanded that the Investigative Committee prosecute police officers who he said assaulted and injured peaceful participants of his campaign for Pashinyan’s resignation.

Supporters of Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan demonstrate outside the Investigative Committee headquarters, Yerevan, June 3, 2024.

Several policemen were caught on camera punching, kicking and swearing at an opposition lawmaker, Ashot Simonian, during anti-government protests on May 27. One of the officers was suspended as a result.

The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday, June 3, that a criminal case has been opened in connection with that incident. Nobody has been indicted so far.

No Armenian law-enforcement officers are known to have been prosecuted in recent years for using excessive force against anti-Pashinyan protesters. Authorities have only brought such charges stemming from police actions during the 2018 mass protests that brought Pashinyan to power.

Levon Yeranosyan, who was the commander of Armenian interior troops at the time, was sentenced on Monday to four years in prison for what a Yerevan court deemed an unauthorized and dangerous use of stun grenades against Pashinyan-led protesters. One of those protesters was seriously injured by a grenade explosion.

Yeranosyan, who denies any wrongdoing, will not go to prison because of a general amnesty declared in 2019. The police general refused to comment after the court ruling.

 

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