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Armenia: NGOs, Human Rights Activists Condemn June 12 Actions of Yerevan Police

Armenia: NGOs, Human Rights Activists Condemn June 12 Actions of Yerevan Police

Several civil society NGOs and human rights activists in Armenia issued the following statement today condemning the actions of Yerevan police on June 12, 2024.

During the demonstration organized by the “Tavush for the Homeland” movement at the Baghramyan-Demirchyan streets intersection on June 12, the RA Police used more than a dozen ‘special’ measures, including stun grenades, which resulted in injuries to both the participants of the protest as well as media representatives.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia and the international human rights documents ratified by the Republic of Armenia guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as well as the absolute right to protection from cruel and inhuman treatment. Although the right to freedom of assembly may be restricted on special grounds limited by law to achieve a legitimate goal, nevertheless, such restrictions must be essential and proportionate to the scales of the pursued.

According to international standards, decentralized acts of violence do not render the entire assembly non-peaceful, and state authorities are obliged to provide clear justifications for the use of extreme measures, such as stun grenades. Moreover, in any case, the use of extreme measures must be severely necessary – conditioned by the behavior of specific individuals and must be unalterable and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.

International legal standards require that the use of special means and extreme measures must be regulated by well-defined rules. Additionally, the law enforcement officers employing them must undergo proper training and be subject to oversight during demonstrations and protests. Furthermore, following any case of use of force, especially if it has been used against individuals who did not show violent resistance, it is mandatory to conduct an effective assessment of the necessity, proportionality, and reasonableness of the use of force.

The mentioned assembly was initially peaceful in nature – with unarmed participants. Although during the demonstrations there were instances of commotion and pushing, resulting in violent actions by some group participants and organizers, including breaking the fences of Lovers’ Park and throwing objects at the police. However, instead of isolating these specific protesters, the Police, essentially without proper warning, used extreme measures — grenades — against the participants of the assembly, including peaceful protesters and journalists covering the assembly.

The legislation of the Republic of Armenia defines the order and criteria for the use of special means of force. The necessity and proportionality of the use of grenades have not been justified by the police. The argument that extreme measures were used because protesters were trying to break the police barricade and attack the National Assembly building is unfounded. The protesters were in the adjacent area of ​​the Lovers’ Park and posed no direct and real threat to the National Assembly building. The Police have also failed to present any evidence of the inevitability of such an immediate attack.

Nevertheless, the police officers used extreme measures against the participants of a large assembly, and it should have been evident to them that the permissible standards for the use of special means on individuals, as defined by the RA Minister of Health’s Order No. 90-N of 2012, would not be met. Specifically, the requirement to use the special means at a minimum distance of 2.5 meters from a person was not kept, which reasonably and inevitably caused various degrees of injuries and harm to the health of the participants. This should have been considered by the police at the stage of deciding on the special means and excluded in order not to result in harm not only to the peaceful participants of the assembly but also to the journalists and camera staff covering the protests.

Thus, the use of special means—stun grenades—by the police officers was unnecessary and disproportionate, and therefore illegal.

In addition, within the same assembly, police officers used physical force and violence against the participants, made degrading and humiliating remarks towards them, both at the assembly site and during their detention and while under the direct control of the police officers. It was recorded that as a result of the beatings and violence by the police officers, Abraham Gasparyan was hospitalized with diagnosed rib fractures, a concussion, and other injuries.

We, the undersigned public organizations, human rights defenders, and individuals, strongly condemn the illegal actions of the RA Police and any manifestation of violence, which is a result of systemic impunity and disintegrity — ensured by the investigative and prosecutorial bodies of RA as well as the judicial system.

In previous years, no police officer has been held accountable or punished for any violence committed against assembly participants and journalists covering those assemblies, or for the use of special means and extreme, unnecessary measures.

The violent and illegal actions of the police are encouraged and directly instructed at the highest level of political power, including by RA Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and National Assembly President Alen Simonyan. At the same time of the June 12 assembly, the Prime Minister, speaking in the National Assembly, expressed his unconditional support for the police actions, insisting that ‘all police officers are doing their job correctly,’ thanking them and affirming a positive assessment of the more principled officers. Therefore, authorizing the violent actions of the police against assembly participants and guaranteeing their impunity. The next day, he rushed to characterize the police actions as ‘legal and professional.’

Such statements by the head of the executive power in Armenia are not only direct instructions to police officers but also influence the law enforcement system, affecting the independence and objectivity of investigations into police actions.

Civil society organizations have repeatedly noted that the RA Investigative Committee initiates criminal proceedings concerning incidents during assemblies exclusively related to the alleged illegal actions of assembly participants and not to the cases of use of force and violence by police officers. This raises deep concerns about the independence and impartiality of the law enforcement system, including the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee.

Reaffirming our previous demands for radical reforms in the police system, we demand:

  • From the RA Prosecutor General’s Office and the RA Investigative Committee, to immediately start criminal proceedings regarding the use of special means and extreme force against participants and media representatives during the assembly on June 12, 2024, and the instances of violence; conduct an independent and effective investigation; hold the police officers who committed such violations accountable; and ensure public awareness of the steps taken to tackle this demand.
  • From the RA Ministry of Internal Affairs, to respect the rights of peaceful protesters; refrain from using violence and other illegal and disproportionate use of force and actions that degrade the protesters’ dignity; ensure the conduct of any peaceful assembly, and ensure mandatory rules and regulations are in place to assess the legality of any measures taken during the assembly.

At the same time, we demand that.

  • The RA authorities guarantee respect for human rights and ensure the implementation of the principle of the rule of law in the Republic of Armenia. The political leadership of the RA, including the heads of both the legislative and executive branches, must refrain from using hate speech, which leads to further escalation of political tensions.
  • The RA political leadership must not use the police as a tool against political opponents and refrain from making statements assessing police actions before an official investigation is conducted, as these inevitably influence the independence and impartiality of the investigation.

Undersigned organizations are:

“Protection of Rights Without Borders” NGO

Law Development and Protection Foundation

“For Equal Rights” NGO

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor

Transparency International Anticorruption Center

“Helsinki Association for Human Rights” NGO

“Journalists for Human Rights” NGO

“Public Journalism Club” NGO

“Disability Rights Agenda” NGO

Human Rights Research Center

Media Initiatives Center

“Armenian Progressive Youth” NGO

Armenian National Committee of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly

“Umbrella International Journalists Network” NGO

Yezidi Center for Human Rights NGO

Goris Press Club

Center for Community Mobilization and support NGO

Zaruhi Hovhannisyan, human rights defender

Hasmik Gevorgyan, human rights defender

Hasmik Petrosyan, lawyer

Inga Zarafyan, environmentalist

Tatevik Gharibyan, human rights defender

Isabella Sargsyan, human rights defender

Artur Grigoryan, environmentalist, lawyer

Gayane Shagoyan, ethnographer