“Those who exerted violence and issued the order are the same people. Generally, violence acts involving law enforcement agency representatives and protestors have surged up since 2013,” stated the human rights defenders at the Media Center panel discussion on the actions of law enforcement agencies at the recent rallies.
The panelists included: Haykuhi Harutyunyan, head of the Protection of Rights without Borders; Avetik Ishkhanyan, chairman at the Helsinki Committee of Armenia; mothers of soldiers killed not in action Anahit Mkrtchyan and Gohar Sargsyan.
The discussion featured the incident near the residence of President Serzh Sargsyan on February 11. A group of protesters, mainly parents of soldiers killed not in action have had a fight with police near the residence of President Serzh Sargsyan this week. The police officers forced the protestors away from the residence to the opposite pavement.
The parents of soldiers demanded a meeting with the President. They sent letters to President Serzh Sargsyan in November but have not received any response for three months. “Thus, we went to the President’s residence to meet him and make him listen to us. But we were ordered to move to the opposite pavement,” Anahit Mkrtchyan said.
The police officers, Gohar Sargsyan recalled, rounded us up and “pushed us to the other side of the street. I called the Human Rights Defender’s office for them to come and instantly find out what was going on. Then two police officers - they seemed to have been ordered – grabbed my hands and pushed away. They even did not let me walk myself… I opened my eyes to find myself on the other pavement. One of the parents Irina Ghazaryan helped me come to myself,” Gohar Sargsyan said.
The soldiers’ mothers have applied to all the possible authorities in Armenia, Gohar Sargsyan insisted. “We last went to Prime Minster Hovik Abrahamyan who said it is an issue for the commander-in-chief to solve. Five years ago the President promised us to investigate the deaths but it is five years nothing has been done,” she added.
Anahit Mkrtchyan and Gohar Sargsyan claim the causes of their sons’ deaths have not been revealed and those guilty are not punished. The mothers claim their sons have been killed. “And the incident near the President’s residence apparently showcases the authorities are reluctant to identify the causes and real criminals,” they stated.
After the incident, the parents went to the police station where they met “head of the Staff of the Police Department.” “He met us and spoke very rudely, saying that the police acted lawfully, had the right “to beat us with batons,” said Gohar Sargsyan.
Human rights defenders describe the police officers’ actions as violence acts against peaceful protestors and emphasize the recent increase in the number of violence acts against protestors.
“The police have recently taken more serious, more radical measures against any protestors. The police seem to have a well-developed strategy to halt protests at any cost and use force against demonstrators,” Haykuhi Harutyunyan said, adding the police officers involved in the incident on February 11 must be punished.
Avetik Ishkhanyan does not believe any police officer will be held responsible for the incident. “Those officers do not use violence at their own initiative. They are to fulfill the order. The one who orders and the one who commits violence acts is one and the same person. It is an utter tragedy. These women in black and anguish are not sympathized, moreover, their letters are neglected and they are treated rudely. It is a great shame to all the society,” Ishkhanyan stated.
“Since 2013 we have observed an increase in the unlawful and inappropriate actions of the police during rallies. The actions were often done without any good reasoning or the reasoning was that the protestors refused to obey the orders of the police which is a very extensive notion. In 2013 a number of people were detained and sued. And the boiling point was the detention of over hundred people without any reason during the Russian President’s visit to Armenia two years ago. We saw the same tendency last year and this year on January 15 people were abducted immediately on Freedom Square,” said Ishkhanyan.
The situation regarding actions of the police at rallies, Ishkhanyan believes, is likely to worsen in the context of the confrontation of the Prosperous Armenia and Republican Party.
“It is something unprecedented for Armenia. The situation is very tense and I am really worried. If at usual rallies the police behave so unreasonably, what could be now? If the opposition does what they have promised to do, I fear we may have not only violence acts or banned rallies but political prisoners as well,” he concluded.