Police blocked the way to protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via AP)

12 More Armenians Indicted Over Antigovernment Protests

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By Gayane Saribekian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Amid strong criticism from human rights groups, Armenian authorities have brought criminal charges against 12 people in connection with June 12’s clashes in Yerevan between riot police and protesters demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation.

Eight of them were remanded in pre-trial custody and two others were placed under house arrest by courts over the weekend.

The Investigative Committee said on Monday, June 17, that one of the suspects was charged with participating in “mass disturbances.” The others are facing accusations of “hooliganism committed in a group” against police officers. The committee indicated that it may well prosecute more supporters of Archbishop Bagrat, the leader of the more than month-long anti-government protests.

The law-enforcement agency indicted the 12 men just as it freed without charge all 28 protesters who were arrested on Wednesday on a street adjacent to the Armenian parliament building heavily guarded by security forces. Thousands of Galstanyan supporters gathered there as Pashinyan answered questions from parliamentarians.

During scuffles that broke out there, security forces hurled dozens of stun grenades into the dense crowd, injuring at least 83 people who required medical aid in hospitals. According to law-enforcement authorities, 18 policemen were also hurt.

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Pashinyan and his allies have unequivocally defended the police actions, claiming that the protesters tried to break through the police cordons to storm the parliament. These claims are rejected not only by Galstanyan and the Armenian opposition forces, but also by local civic organizations.

In a joint statement issued on Monday, 17 mostly Western-funded NGOs strongly condemned the police actions as “unnecessary, disproportionate and therefore illegal” and demanded a criminal investigation into them. They were especially outraged by the unprecedented number of stun grenades used in the crackdown.

Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International’s South Caucasus researcher, likewise expressed serious concern about “the level of violence during the latest street rally in Yerevan”

“We call on the Armenian authorities to immediately and impartially investigate what happened, including allegations that the police may have used unnecessary or excessive force,” she said.

“Law enforcement officials should avoid the use of force; where this is not possible, force should only be used when it is absolutely necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective, and to the minimum extent necessary,”

As of the evening of June 17, the authorities reported no criminal or internal inquiries into police officers who inflicted serious injuries not only on protesters but also a dozen journalists. Armenia’s leading media associations had suggested on Thursday, June 13, that the police deliberately targeted the reporters and cameramen who covered the protest.

Topics: protests

Ruben Melikyan, an opposition-linked lawyer representing one of the indicted suspects, said that the authorities are pressing politically motivated charges against protesters in order to justify the use of force. He insisted that the charges are based on policemen’s incriminating testimony that cannot be corroborated by any evidence.

“Look at the testimony of those ‘victims,’” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “One of the policemen said, ‘I had a back pain, went to the doctor and they said everything is alright.’ Another said, ‘An empty plastic bottle hit my helmet and I felt dizzy.’”

Melikyan’s client, Tigran Saribekyan, is now under house arrest. According to the lawyer, Saribekyan threw a wooden object towards several lines of riot police after being injured in a stun grenade explosion.

The latest indictments raised to 59 the total number of Galstanyan supporters prosecuted since the beginning of the anti-government protests in late April. Twenty-nine of them are held in pre-trial detention.

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