YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Two more police officers were convicted on Friday of using disproportionate force during the break-up of demonstrations staged by Armenians in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election.
A court in Yerevan sentenced Gegham Harutiunian and Hovannes Ghukasian to two years in prison for beating up a man shortly after the pre-dawn dispersal on March 1, 2008 of an opposition tent camp in the city’s Liberty Square.
Both men qualify for a general amnesty declared in June and will therefore avoid imprisonment. They will only be barred from working for law-enforcement or other state bodies for one year.
The ruling came just over a week after two other policemen received three-year prison sentences, also covered by the amnesty, for harshly treating two civilians elsewhere in the city center early on March 2, 2009. During both trials the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that they acted in self-defense.
Harutiunian and Ghukasian insisted that they hit the unidentified opposition protester with truncheons because he hurled stones and verbal abuse at them. Their lawyer, Arshak Tovmasian, said it is the protester, and not his “innocent” clients, who should have been prosecuted.
State prosecutors said the use of force was illegal and unnecessary because the victim lay on the ground and no longer resisted law-enforcement officers during the incident videotaped by an unknown cameraman. They also claimed to have been unable to identify and locate the beaten man during the investigation.
But Armen Khachatrian, a representative of the opposition Armenian National Congress, dismissed the claim, saying that the victim was in fact arrested on the spot and spent some time in prison. Khachatrian said the prosecutors did not question him to avoid a more embarrassing account of police actions during the post-election unrest.
The two cases are a rare example of law-enforcement officials prosecuted in connection with the March 1-2, 2008 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. They left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured.
The Armenian authorities maintain that the violence resulted from an opposition attempt to forcibly seize power. The Congress, whose leader Levon Ter-Petrosian spearheaded the 2008 street protests, strongly denies that, saying that the authorities deliberately killed people to enforce the officials results of the disputed election.