background briefing

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Prelude to April 12-13

At the end of March 2004, two of the main opposition groups, the Artarutiun (Justice) Alliance, which consists of nine parties—including the Republic Party, the People’s Party, and the National Unity Party—joined forces and announced its campaign of action.12 Following this move, the opposition intensified its efforts, making further announcements and mobilizing in Armenia’s provinces. The authorities responded by restricting freedom of movement, carrying out detentions, and threatening criminal charges against opposition campaign organizers.

On March 28, approximately one thousand opposition supporters rallied in Giumri, Armenia’s second largest city. Pro-government supporters appeared at the rally and threw eggs at opposition leaders. Scuffles broke out and police arrested up to fifteen opposition demonstrators, but did not arrest any of the pro-government supporters. Police charged four of the activists with hooliganism under article 258 of the criminal code and a court remanded them in custody for two months pre-trial detention. The others were released without charge.13

On March 30, the procurator general, or attorney general, opened a criminal case against the Justice Alliance and its supporters under articles 301 (public calls for seizure of power by force) and 318(2) (publicly insulting representatives of government) of the criminal code. The procurator general stated that the charges were related to the recent protests initiated by the Justice Alliance.14 As a result of opening the criminal case, the authorities began to summon opposition leaders for questioning as witnesses.15

On April 5, Artashes Geghamian, the leader of the National Unity Party, addressed a rally in Yerevan, organized by the party, that drew an estimated 3,000 participants. As he was speaking, about two dozen men pelted him with eggs. Some fighting broke out between the rally participants and these men. When journalists present tried to film the clashes, the men attacked the journalists and smashed their cameras.16 Several hundred police stood by observing the events, but took no action.17 The Yerevan police chief reportedly defended the police inaction, stating that the police properly followed their orders to take action only in “extreme cases.”18 Police later confirmed that following the rally they detained forty-eight opposition supporters.19

From April 5, the number of rallies in Yerevan steadily increased, as did the number of  opposition supporters detained or otherwise intimidated. The Republic Party estimated that from the end of March until April 12, police had detained, searched, or harassed more than 300 of its supporters.20

Meanwhile, according to the Justice Alliance, on March 22, three unknown assailants attacked and beat Victor Dallakian, an opposition member of parliament and secretary of the Justice Alliance, in the street near his house. On April 3, unknown men beat Aramais Barsegian, a former member of parliament and head of the Artashat district branch of the People’s Party of Armenia, near his house. The timing of the attacks on both, together with the lack of any other reasonable explanation for them, led the Justice Alliance to believe they were politically motivated.21

On March 30 at 9:00 a.m., four unknown men assaulted Mikael Danielian, a human rights defender, near his house in Yerevan, as he was returning home from walking his dog. They punched him repeatedly to the head, and kicked him after he fell to the ground. Danielian was taken to hospital, where he remained until April 2. Danielian believed that the attack was an act of retribution for his human rights work and that he was targeted at this time in order to stop him from monitoring the growing protests of the political opposition in Armenia and the associated government abuses.22 Although this is the first reported attack on a human rights defender, journalists publishing material critical of the government have been the victims of such attacks.23

Restrictions on Travel to Yerevan

            Police stop our activists who are trying to come from the regions in their cars,

            arrest them, scare them, and don’t allow them to come to Yerevan.24

From the end of March until mid-April 2004, police restricted the movement of opposition supporters trying to travel to Yerevan to attend rallies by setting up road blocks, stopping cars, questioning the passengers, and denying permission to travel further to those they believed were opposition supporters.25 These actions breached the right to freedom of movement, protected under international law.26

On the morning of April 5, between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon, police stopped nine members of the National Unity Party in three cars at a check point as they were leaving Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city, on the main road to Yerevan. They were intending to participate in a rally at 3:00 p.m. in Yerevan. Police held the nine men at the Vanadzor police station, reportedly telling them, “we have saved you from being beaten in Yerevan.” Police took three of the men to the local court, which sentenced them to five days of administrative detention for not following police orders. The rest were released at 8:00 p.m. on the same day.27

In early April, the police presence in Vanadzor increased significantly and members of the National Police force were brought into the city to help the local police to monitor the roadblocks. Police told a local human rights defender that the increased police presence was a result of an order on the “tense situation.”28 On April 9, police sent a minivan to the outskirts of Vanadzor and detained people in it who were traveling to Yerevan whom they suspected were intending to participate in opposition rallies.29

[12] “Armenia Braces for Political Upheaval,” Emil Danielyan, Eurasianet, April 1, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 27, 2004).

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Tigran Ter-Esayan, president of the International Union of Advocates, Yerevan, April 17, 2004. “Opposition activists arrested after rally in Armenia’s Gyumri,” Arminfo, Yerevan, in Russian, March 29, 2004, translated by BBC Monitoring Caucasus. “Armenian Opposition Rally Marred by Violence, Arrests,” Eurasianet, April 5, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 26, 2004);  and “More Armenian Opposition Activists Arrested,” Eurasianet, April 5, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 27, 2004).

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with Tigran Ter-Esayan, president of the International Union of Advocates, Yerevan, April 17, 2004.

[15] On April 8, Albert Bazeyan, a member of parliament from the Justice Alliance was summoned to appear that day at the Procurator General’s Office. Viktor Dallakian, the secretary of the Alliance, and as well as Stepan Demirchian, the chairman of the People’s Party, also each received a summons. “Some Leaders of the Armenian Opposition Receive Call-Up Papers from the General Office of Public Prosecutor,” April 8, 2004, ARKA News Agency. On April 16, Stepan Demirchian and Arashes Geghamian, the head of the National Unity Party, again received summonses to appear at the Procurator’s General’s office. Human Rights Watch interview with Stepan Demirchian, Yerevan, April 16, 2004 and Human Rights Watch interview with an official from the National Unity Party, Yerevan, April 16, 2004.

[16] See section below, Freedom of the Expression.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Zhanna Alexanian, journalist with Armenia Now, Yerevan, April 14, 2004. Numerous press reports, including “Armenia: Journalists attacked at an opposition rally,” April 6, 2004, Committee to Protect Journalists, and “OSCE Condemns Attack on Journalists during Yerevan Protest,” April 9, 2004, Agence France Press. Under international law Armenia is obliged to actively protect the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly (articles 19 and 21, ICCPR, and articles 10 and 11, ECHR), including against attacks by third parties.

[18] “Armenian Police Official Justifies Police Inaction During Attack on Journalists,” Eurasianet, April 5, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 28, 2004).

[19] “Extent of Opposition Arrests in Armenia Widens as More Details Emerge,” Eurasianet, April 5, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 28, 2004).

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Artak Zayanalian, head of administration for the headquarters of the Republic Party, Yerevan, April 15, 2004.

[21] Letter to Mr. Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, from Shavarsh Kocharyan, Justice Alliance, dated April 8, 2004, on file with Human Rights Watch. “Armenian Opposition Parties Forge Efforts as Armenian Opposition Supporters Assaulted and Arrested,” Eurasianet, April 5, 2004 [online], (retrieved April 27, 2004).

[22] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mikael Danielian, Moscow, April 3, 2004. Human Rights Watch interview with Mikael Danielian, Yerevan, April 15, 2004. Human Rights Watch letter to President Robert Kocharian, April 6, 2004.

[23] For example, see United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2003.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with Ruzanna Hachatarian, press secretary of the People’s Party, Yerevan, April 16, 2004.

[25] Some people from the regions were reportedly so determined to attend the rallies from April 9 to 12 that they walked for two days to get to Yerevan. Human Rights Watch interview with participants of the April 12 rally, Yerevan, April 17, 2004. On April 14, a police official admitted to human rights activists in a public meeting in Yerevan that the authorities were restricting travel to Yerevan because of the opposition rallies. Human Rights Watch interview with Zhanna Alexanian, journalist for ArmeniaNow, Yerevan, April 14, 2004.

[26] Article 12, ICCPR. Restrictions to this right can be imposed only if they are provided by law, are necessary to protect the national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the ICCPR. In this case the restrictions on travel were also leading to a breach of the right to peaceful assembly.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Arthur Sakunts, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office, Yerevan, April 16, 2004. Written statement of the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly, dated April 6, 2004. Sakunts attended at the police station after the opposition members’ detention, and he spoke with them after their release.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid. Sakunts himself monitored the police presence in the city, and observed the police minivan for detaining suspected rally participants. By April 16, the police presence on the road to Yerevan had reduced and travel appeared to be unrestricted.

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