Artur Sakunts (center) participating in a meeting with journalists in Yerevan, May 15, 2017. 

© 2017 azatutyun.am (RFE/RL)

(Berlin) – A prominent human rights defender in Armenia has received death threats, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately investigate the threats, made on the rights defender’s Facebook page, and ensure that he gets the protection he needs.

Artur Sakunts, the director of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office (HCA-Vanadzor), reported that on June 2, 2017, a Facebook user threatened to kill Sakunts in a comment on his Facebook page.  The threat appeared to be in response to Sakunts’ Facebook post the same day criticizing the Armenian government. The death threat was followed by a threat from another Facebook user. HCA-Vanadzor is a leading human rights organization in Armenia.

“The Armenian authorities should waste no time in meeting their obligations to investigate the death threat against Artur Sakunts and provide him with the protection he needs,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “No one should fear death for publicly criticizing the government.”

The June 2 Facebook post from a user named Ashot Avanesyan said, “Sakunts, I’ll kill you… [traitors] like you must have their heads [cut] off. Wait for me any moment. I am not one who shoots from the back; I’ll shoot from the front, two to three meters, with a 9mm caliber bullet. Wait for me, Sakunts.” Following Avanesyan’s post, a second Facebook user named Artur Ghazaryan also threatened Sakunts saying that, “The country should be cleaned of him.”

On June 5, Sakunts reported the death threat to the general prosecutor’s office, which is examining it to determine if there are grounds to initiate a criminal investigation.

Sakunts told Human Rights Watch that he has received threats in the past, but the June 2 threat alarmed him because it was very specific in terms of method, even to the caliber of the bullet.

Armenia’s human rights ombudsman also raised concerns about the threats and called for an investigation.

HCA-Vanadzor, operating since 1998, is based in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city. The organization provides legal aid to victims of human rights abuses, makes policy recommendations to the government, monitors elections, and carries out peace-building activities.