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“Don’t Harass the Man”: Political Activist on Trial Stands Up for Police Officer

Police officers who testified in the case of Shant Harutyunyan amused those present in the courtroom with their responses. Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan tried in every way possible to help police employees avoid unwanted questions. 

Today's court hearing in the case of political activist Shant Harutyunyan and his friends began 35 minutes late. Frequent visitors of the hearings have become accustomed to this: relatives of the accused mainly began to gather at around 12:30 pm, while journalists, though they entered the courtroom at the appointed time (12 pm), knew about this "habit" of the court and weren't in a hurry to take their seats. One group of a journalists was discussing whether Yerevan Deputy Police Chief Valeriy Osipyan, who directed the actions of police on the day of the accused were arrested (November 5, 2013), would be questioned in court today. Osipyan was not summoned for questioning at the last court session, though he was named as the fourth victim in the case. The previous three victims were questioned. Osipyan was not present in court during the first half of the hearing today, though Harutyunyan repeatedly asked the court to call him, saying that he wants to speak about the private conversation he had with the deputy police chief ahead of the march on November 5. 

At the start of today's hearing, Judge Martirosyan was found to be amiable toward the Shant TV reporter, allowing him to place his microphone on the stand. Previously, court bailiffs rudely refused the reporter, saying, "You should've come earlier and done that. We aren't going to take [the microphone], and you can’t [approach the stand]."

After that, however, Judge Martirosyan, who has examined many scandalous political cases and, to put it mildly, has a controversial reputation, was well-disposed only toward the police officers named as victims in the case. The judge constantly helped police officers giving testimonies, removed questions that were undesirable for them, and when they found themselves at a loss, he clarified the question, often guiding respondents. 

Police officers named as victims entered the courtroom and presented a text that was clearly memorized, trying to exactly replicate statements made during the preliminary investigation and testimonies police officers made at the last court hearing. They mainly repeated the phrases "hit police officers in civilian clothes," "failed to fulfill the lawful demands of police employees," and "threw explosives under [our] feet". 

Problems arose when attorneys and defendants began to ask the police questions. The first of these, Aziz Mirzoyan, quickly finished his testimony, and Shant Harutyunyan urged those present not to ask questions, after which the officer left. But in the case of the second officer, Razmik Kharatyan, the police officer who memorized his text beforehand, under a barrage of questions, clearly began to flounder. 

In his testimony, Kharatyan said that he was standing 25 meters away from the scene of the incident when he heard the sound of explosives and approached the march. He claims that he heard police officers urging marchers to go on the sidewalk and not to disrupt public order. Asked how he heard at a distance of 25 meters that which video cameras could not catch, the police officer replied: "That's the cameras' problem." 

His answers caused laughter in the courtroom; after some time, police officers and court bailiffs also began to laugh. Realizing that the situation is getting out of control, the young officer began to respond more frequently, "I don't remember" and "I can't say." The stream of questions continued, and Kharatyan, it seems, getting impatient, said, "I don't remember; it's in my testimony; look [there]," after which not only the accused, but also those present in the courtroom began to laugh. Judge Martirosyan came to the police officer's rescue a few times, removing some of the questions. The judge was particularly active when asking questions was defendant Mkrtich Hovhannisyan's attorney Ruzanna Hovhannisyan, who asked whether police officers have the right to carry out their duties in civilian clothes, but in all cases the judge removed the question. 

Kharatyan continued to amuse those present in the courtroom. In particular, asked how he learned that it was not the police who was uttering curses, he said that police officers cannot use foul language. 

At the end of the day, Shant Harutyunyan urged his friends "not to harass the man" and let him go home. 

The other police officers repeated the same text in their testimonies. A person sitting behind me said: "Now he'll say they threw an explosive at my feet, my eyes watered, but it wasn't so powerful and I didn't go see a doctor." And that is almost exactly what the police officer on the stand said. 

Defendant Vardan Vardanyan asked one of the police officers what flags the protestors held that day. The police officer was sure that demonstrators only held Armenia's tricolor flag; however, Vardanyan said they had no flags at all. 

Note, Harutyunyan and his 13 friends are accused of hooliganism committed with an object used as a weapon and resisting the authorities. 

Armen Melikbekyan