YEREVAN (AFP)—On July 3, Armenian authorities launched a criminal investigation into the brutal June 23 crackdown on activists protesting recent electricity price hikes.
The spokesman for Armenia’s special investigative service, Mikael Aharonyan, told AFP that the investigation was over alleged police violence, abuse of power, and obstructing journalists’ activities. If found guilty, officers could face up to six years in prison.
Armenia has been rattled by 2 weeks of protests over plans by a Russian-owned company to increase electricity prices by 16 percent from August.
In late June, hundreds of riot police moved in against protesters using batons and water cannons. Police also beat journalists and destroyed or confiscated their equipment, sparking international condemnation.
After studying the evidence, including videotapes of the clashes, the investigative service said that police officers had exceeded their powers “in an obvious manner,” had used violence against demonstrators and journalists, and had “inflicted significant damage on the legitimate interests of society and the state.”
In a concession to the protesters, President Serge Sarkisian announced last week that the government would temporarily “bear the burden” of the higher prices pending an audit of Armenia’s power distribution company.
Both Armenian activists and Sarkisian denied the rallies were anti-Russian.
But grievances against Moscow, which owns some of Armenia’s most prized economic assets, have long been building in a country hit hard by the economic crisis in Russia.
Relations suffered a huge blow in January when a soldier serving at the Russian military base in the tiny Caucasus nation murdered a local family of seven, including a six-month-old boy.
On July 2, demonstrators observed a moment of silence in honor of the baby, who would have turned 1.