(Berlin) – A spate of violent attacks against peaceful protesters appears to be a concerted effort to intimidate activists and should be effectively investigated, Human Rights Watch said in a September 11, 2013 letter to the Armenia police chief and to the head of the Special Investigative Service. Officials should swiftly bring the attackers to justice and make clear that any violence against people for exercising their right to peaceful protest will be neither tolerated nor condoned.
Human Rights Watch documented attacks against five activists in three separate incidents in the past three weeks. In each case, unidentified men in civilian clothes set upon individual demonstrators late at night after they left protest sites in Yerevan, either in front of the city government building or the ruling Republican Party headquarters. The victims were cut and bruised, and some had concussions or broken bones, including one whose nose was broken.
“If thugs keep jumping on protesters and beating them up as they leave for home, that’s hardly a coincidence,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The police and other Armenian authorities need to be prepared to make clear that they are going to put a stop to these attacks, starting with effective investigations that lead to arrests and prosecutions.”
In all cases Human Rights Watch documented, the police took reports from the victims, and in one case police went with the victim to the crime scene. However, the victims told Human Rights Watch that the investigative authorities did not follow up, even when one of the victims was able to identify his suspected attackers.
On September 5, about six unidentified assailants attacked Haykak Arshamyan and Suren Saghatelyan, well-known civil society activists, as they were returning from a peaceful demonstration in front of the ruling Republican Party headquarters to protest President Serzh Sargisyan’s September 3 announcement that Armenia would join the Russia-led customs union.
The men attacked Arshamyan as he tried to open the garage door in his courtyard, kicking and beating him. “They did not say anything, not even cursing, just beating without saying a word,” he said. “I shouted and tried to understand why they were beating me, but nothing.” When Saghatelyan tried to get out of the car to help his friend, the assailants also attacked him: “They hit me with the car door as I tried to leave, and broke my nose and a finger, my head was also cut.”
Saghatelyan was hospitalized for several days for emergency surgery on his broken nose, and Arshamyan was treated for multiple bruises that night and discharged. Police took statements from both men that night, but they have not informed the men of any further investigatory steps.
On the night of September 4, unidentified assailants attacked Arman Alexanyan, a 21-year-old Yerevan State University Information Technology student and civic activist, after he left a sit-in at the Yerevan municipal building. Several dozen activists have been engaged in round-the-clock protests after a temporary price increase for municipal transportation in late July.
As Alexanyan was returning home around midnight, about 10 young men in civilian clothes attacked him, punching and kicking him and berating him for taking part in protests. His friends called an ambulance and he was hospitalized briefly for bruises and bumps on his head. Police took a statement from him at the hospital, and two days later police asked him to meet them at the scene for investigation purposes. He identified several of his suspected attackers to the police, but to the best of his knowledge, police did not take appropriate steps to apprehend them.
At about 1 a.m. on August 25, about six unidentified assailants attacked two youth activists, Babken Der Grigoryan and Mihran Margaryan, in the city center shortly after they left the municipal building protest. Grigoryan told Human Rights Watch, “They told us, ‘We know you are coming from the protests’ and started punching us… They punched me in the chest and body and I fell on the ground as they continued to kick me.”
The activists’ friends took them to a police station to file an assault report. More than two weeks later, as far as they have been able to find out, no criminal case has been opened.
The investigative authorities should take all appropriate measures to investigate these attacks promptly, thoroughly, and effectively, Human Rights Watch said. Investigations should involve participation of the victims and should be conclusive, public, and capable of leading to the identification and prosecution of the attackers.
“The Armenian authorities need to show that they intend to stop attacks on peaceful protesters,” Gogia said. “Finding and prosecuting the attackers in this spate of cases would be a step toward making it clear that the authorities don’t condone and won’t tolerate this kind of violence.”