Policemen Sanctioned Over ‘Electric Yerevan’ Violence

Plainclothes police officers arrest a protester on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue on June 23 (Source: Photolure)

Plainclothes police officers arrest a protester on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue on June 23 (Source: Photolure)

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Yerevan police on Monday demoted one officer and “reprimanded” eight others for excessive use of force during the dispersal of activists in Yerevan protesting electricity price hikes on June 23.

Police detained more than 230 people on the morning of June 23 as they unblocked Marshal Bagramian Avenue, which has been occupied by protesters. Over two dozen protesters were injured in the crackdown that has been criticized by Armenian media and opposition groups, as well as Western observers.

National Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian responded to the outcry by ordering an “internal inquiry” into the actions of police. His office announced the first results of that inquiry in a statement announcing that disciplinary action would be taken against nine officers, including Colonel Artur Mehrabian, a controversial deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department.

According to the statement, Mehrabian received a formal “reprimand” for his failure to demonstrate “restraint” and “appropriate and civilized behavior” during the forced dispersal of the crowd on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue. Seven other mostly low-ranking policemen were also reprimanded on similar grounds, according to the statement.

A ninth officer, a lieutenant-colonel, has been demoted from his position “by one degree” because of improper conduct during a protester’s detention, according to the statement.

The statement added that the police inquiry is continuing, suggesting that more officers could be subject to disciplinary action. Few observers expect it to result in any firings or prosecutions, however.

The actions by police 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 yet to charge anyone.

Punishment of senior police officers who used disproportionate force on June 23 is one of the demands of the No To Plunder movement, a youth group that launched the 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 reign in their subordinates in any way,” Maxim Sargsian, one of the protest organizers, told reporters on Monday.

Sargsian warned that the group could resume street protests and even demand President Serzh Sarkissian’s resignation if law-enforcement officials who used excessive force are not punished, and if authorities fail to officially reverse the more than 16% 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.”

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