YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A court in Yerevan on Monday sentenced an opposition activist to two years in prison on what he considers trumped-up charges of assaulting a police officer during an anti-government protest staged a year ago.
Gevorg Safarian was among dozens of members of the opposition New Armenia Public Salvation Front who scuffled with riot police as they tried to celebrate the New Year in Yerevan’s Liberty Square early on January 1, 2016. Safarian was arrested and accused of assaulting one of the officers. He went on trial a few months later.
Reading out the verdict, the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, said law-enforcement authorities have proved that Safarian punched and knocked down the policeman, Gegham Khachatrian, during the incident. Martirosian provoked angry chants from the defendant’s relatives and supporters present in the courtroom.
“This is what was expected to happen,” Safarian told reporters, reacting to the ruling.
In his concluding remarks at the trial made earlier in the day, the oppositionist again strongly denied the charges brought against him, saying that it was Khachatrian who assaulted him and other protesters. He insisted that the criminal case based on police testimony was “fabricated” in response to his political activities.
“Our judicial system has been reduced to an absurd level,” charged Safarian. “They can jail anyone they want.”
His lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, also condemned the verdict and said he will appeal against it. “The court executed a [government] order, rather than delivered a verdict,” he said. “There is no jurisprudence here.”
In a January 2016 statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Safarian’s pre-trial arrest as “wholly unjustified.” The New York-based watchdog said he is prosecuted for his political views and should therefore be released from custody.