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Armenian Officer Prosecuted Over Hazing Video

The hazing case comes at a bad time for the military, which has faced a number of high-profile scandals.
The hazing case comes at a bad time for the military, which has faced a number of high-profile scandals.
YEREVAN -- Armenia's Defense Ministry has officially confirmed the identity of an army officer who was arrested last week for abusing his soldiers and is now facing up to five years in prison, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The arrest followed the circulation of a YouTube video clip that shows a uniformed man hitting and humiliating two army conscripts at what looks like a picnic. The footage caused widespread public outrage and prompted the military to order an inquiry.

The Defense Ministry initially questioned the video's authenticity and said those who posted it on the Internet are keen to "discredit" the armed forces.

But subsequent media reports said military investigators found the officer shown in the video clip. He was identified as Major Sasun Galstian, deputy commander of an army unit deployed in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ministry issued a statement on September 22 saying Galstian was arrested and formally charged on September 17 under an article of the criminal code dealing with abuse of power committed by servicemen. It carries a sentence of between two and five years in jail.

The ministry statement also identified the two soldiers allegedly mistreated by Galstian and said they will be given a medical examination. It added that the video was shot in July on a mobile phone belonging to another serviceman.

All three men are being questioned by military investigators.

The widely publicized video could hardly surface at a worse time for the military, which was rocked by a series of noncombat shootings in late July and August that left at least seven soldiers dead, five of them in a single incident.

The deaths highlighted chronic abuse and corruption within the army. Eight senior and mid-level officers were dismissed and more than a dozen others demoted as a result. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian publicly criticized them at an emergency meeting of senior Defense Ministry officials and army brass.

Four other servicemen, including an army captain, are currently under arrest pending trial on charges of abusing a junior officer who military investigators claim committed suicide while on combat duty. Relatives of Lieutenant Artak Nazarian, however, believe he was murdered.

In a related development, the Defense Ministry submitted to parliament earlier this month a draft "disciplinary code" of the armed forces that allows soldiers to challenge illegal orders issued by their immediate commanders.