YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Monday upheld lengthy prison sentences that were given earlier this year to six men convicted of beating to death a patron at a Yerevan restaurant owned by a government-linked tycoon.
The men, officially listed as security guards and other employees of the Harsnakar restaurant, were sentenced by a lower court to 12 years in prison for attacking a military doctor, Vahe Avetian, and several of his friends and colleagues in a violent dispute in June 2012. Avetian died of severe head injuries in hospital about two weeks later. Two other army medics were also seriously injured and hospitalized.
The death of Avetian, a 35-year-old father of three, shocked the country, sparking a series of angry street protests by hundreds of civic activists and other citizens. They demonstrated outside the restaurant as well as the nearby house of its de-facto owner Ruben Hayrapetian against what they saw as a manifestation of impunity enjoyed by government-linked “oligarchs” and their bodyguards.
Hayrapetian is a wealthy businessman and political ally of President Serzh Sarkisian heading the Armenian Football Federation. He has long faced opposition allegations of politically motivated violence and is also notorious for insulting journalists.
The outcry forced Hayrapetian to resign as member of the Armenian parliament and apologize to Avetian’s family. However, the controversial tycoon strongly denied any involvement in the brutal beating. Some media outlets accused him sanctioning or even ordering the violence.
Both the defendants and the assault victims were dissatisfied with the lower-court ruling handed down in March, challenging it at the Court of Appeals. During hearings on the appeals, lawyers representing the accused men insisted that the jail sentences are too harsh. They also claimed that their clients were provoked by Avetian and his friends.
Lawyers for Avetian’s family and the other victims claimed the opposite. They said Hayrapetian’s former employees should have been convicted of premeditated murder and handed longer jail terms.
In the event, a panel of three judges headed by Sergey Chichoyan decided to keep the Mach ruling unchanged. Journalists were ordered to leave the courtroom before Chichoyan read out the decision condemned by relatives of the defendants.