YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Police in Yerevan have been instructed to confront anyone who makes what they see as offensive comments about Armenia’s leaders during opposition demonstrations, a senior police official said on Friday.
“They go as far as to make offensive comments about our leaders,” Major-General Nerses Nazarian, chief of Yerevan’s police department, complained about opposition demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans.
“That is not normal,” he said. “I declare that at my instructions, that will not tolerated by my services.”
Nazarian did not specify just how offenders will be punished by his officers. Nor did he explain what he thinks constitutes a personal insult directed at President Serzh Sarkisian and other top government officials.
Police officers monitoring marches staged in the city center by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian are known to have tried to stop protesters chanting one of their favorite slogans, “Serzhik, go away!” There have so far been no reported cases of a protester being detained as a result.
Nazarian unequivocally defended a highly controversial criminal case against Tigran Arakelian, an opposition youth who was arrested in July after he and several other Ter-Petrosian supporters clashed with plainclothes policemen while publicizing an opposition rally. The activists claimed to have been attacked for expressing their views. Three of them, including Arakelian, were injured in the clash.
Speaking at a news conference, Nazarian stood by the police claims that Arakelian, who is now facing up to 10 years in prison, himself assaulted and injured a policeman. “There are some young people who are trying to become heroes during those marches,” he said.
The police general warned that “anyone who will try to put his hand on a policeman” will be strictly punished. “You don’t have to necessarily stab a policeman or smash his head in order to be accused of resistance or defiance,” he said.
Nazarian also publicized the latest police data that show the number of various officially registered crimes committed in Yerevan in the first eight months of this year jumping by 60 percent to about 4,700. “The rise in crime mainly stems from the economic crisis and the socioeconomic plight,” he said.
Law-enforcement authorities already reported similar increases across the country earlier this year. The chief of the national police service, Alik Sargsian, attributed much of that to improved crime registration.