YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Armenian police on Monday demoted one of their officers and “reprimanded” eight others for excessive use of force during the June 23 dispersal of young activists in Yerevan protesting against an electricity price hike.
The police detained more than 230 people early in the morning as they unblocked the city’s central Marshal Bagramian Avenue occupied by the protesters. More than two dozen protesters were injured in the crackdown criticized by the Armenian media and opposition groups as well as Western powers.
The national police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, responded to the outcry by ordering an “internal inquiry” into the police actions. His office announced the first results of that inquiry in a statement that announced the disciplinary action against the nine officers, including Colonel Artur Mehrabian, a controversial deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department.
The statement said Mehrabian received a formal “reprimand” for his failure to demonstrate “restraint” and “appropriate and civilized behavior” during the forcible dispersal of the crowd. It said seven other, mostly low-ranking policemen were reprimanded on similar grounds.
The ninth officer, a lieutenant-colonel, had his position downgraded “by one degree” because of his improper conduct during a protester’s detention, according to the statement.
The statement added that the police inquiry is continuing, suggesting at more officers could be subjected to disciplinary action. Few observers expect it to result in any sackings or prosecutions, however.
The police actions on Marshal Bagramian Avenue are also the subject of a criminal investigation that was launched by another law-enforcement agency, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), on July 3. The SIS has not charged anyone yet.
Punishment of senior police officers who used disproportionate force on June 23 is one of the demands addressed to the Armenian authorities by No To Plunder, a youth group that launched the nonstop protests on Marshal Bagramian Avenue on June 22 before being sidelined by other, more radical activists.
No To Plunder leaders are due to rally supporters outside Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General on Tuesday to press that demand. “All that happened in the presence of high-ranking officers and they did not try to rein in their subordinates in any way,” one of them, Maxim Sargsian, told reporters on Monday.
Sargsian warned that the group could resume street protests and even demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation if the violent law-enforcement officials avoid punishment and if the authorities fail to officially reverse the more than 17 percent rise in electricity prices.
“Let them have no doubts about that,” he said, referring to the authorities. “There are many streets in Yerevan that could be blocked and with a much greater impact.”