About Recent Events in Yerevan
In the framework of the monitoring mission, which was proposed and organised by the Human Rights House Network, a representative of a Human Rights organisation from Kharkiv, one of the co-organisers and an active member of the Human Rights House in Ukraine, and a Belarusian human rights defender Nasta Loiko (organisation “Viasna”) were invited for three days to Yerevan for monitoring of situation, investigation of violations human rights during the peaceful protest on Bagramyan Avenue and collecting information of the events that took place in the Armenian capital on 23 June 2015.
Members of the Human Rights House Network mission have an opportunity to meet and speak to 15 participants of the events in the morning of 23 June. All the witness statements were documented thoroughly in order to reconstruct complete and credible panorama of the morning events of 23 June, to identify different violations of the human rights of people who started the protest.
Representatives of the organisations from Human Rights Houses Network Mika Danielyan (Armenia) and Nasta Loiko (Belorus) are discussing plans on documenting information on the events of 23 June 2015 in Yerevan. Picture is taken close to the epicenter of the events on the morning of 23 June 2015 (crossroad of Moskovska street and Baghramyan Avenue.
The cause for the protests in Yerevan was the governmental decision to raise electricity prices by 16%. The prices was not low, however after the increase of prices planned for 1August 2015 for 1 kW of consumed electric energy one should pay 48.78 dram for day price (that consist approximately 10 eurocents) and 38.78 dram for night price. For example, in Ukraine, according new prices you spent 36.60 hryvnas (1.5 euro) for the first 100 kW and 63.00 hryvnyas (2.6 euros) for each following 100 kW, so when an Ukrainian citizen pays 162 hryvnas (6.7 euros), an Armenian citizen should pay approximately 700 hryvnas (29 euros).
The first demonstration began on 19 June and a single demand to take into account requirements of population and cancel the planned raise of electricity prices was put forward. Three days of peaceful standing and sitting at the Freedom Square did not bring any result. The protesters demand was not heard by the President and the government and no reaction followed, thus the evening of June 22, at the appeal of protesters, the mass demonstration of several thousand participants (the protesters themselves defined their amount within 5-7 thousand), which proceed to the residence of the President of Armenia, located on the 26, Baghramyan Avenue.
There is a few hundred meters from Freedom Square, the previous location of the manifestation, to Baghramyan Avenue and the protesters reached the beginning of the Avenue quickly, at about 19:00. However, 150 meters from the beginning of the Avenue it was blocked by police cordon that prevented the march to move forward. The deputy chief of police of Yerevan Valeriy Osipyan met the protesters and suggested them to choose 5-6 representatives so they representatives would be able to convey the protesters’ demands to the leaders of the state. However, the protesters have refused the offer. The motive for refusal was that the protesters put forward clear and straightforward requirements for the cancellation of the electricity prices and that was not required any explanations.
The Police, in their turn, regarded that the protesters had changed the form of the protest for the peaceful march that was not announced previously, hence, the police considered these actions of protesters as unlawful (not alike the peaceful gathering at the Freedom Square), what they had announced repeatedly.
The protesters, not committing any violence, have decided to stay at the Baghramyan Avenue and start a sitting strike, persisting the accomplishing of their only and nonpolitical demand. It is worthy to notify that according to the evidence of the participants of these events, they were prepared for the crackdown of the demonstration by the law enforcement. That was also supported by the fact of the presence of the considerable amount of the police servicepersons, and by the repeated reminding if the unlawful character of the demonstration, and proposition to clear the area that was voiced by Valeriy Osipyan, and by the presence of the prepared for use water cannon, which, as said, was bought with the OSCE money and which is an acceptable remedy for the contactless disperse of the protesters.
At 5 am the police forces lined up and took the protective shields, and after the water cannon engine have started, it became clear that the disperse of the protesters is going to start.
The protestors, whose quantity at the time was estimated from 300 to 500 participants rallied at Baghramyan Avenue. People were sitting, holding arms to form a tight circle to prevent the protesters being pulled out by the police. At about 5:20 the water cannon started working, the first 2-3 water jets were under not that high pressure, however the attacks that followed immediately were done with the water under high pressure, which did not allow people to remain steady since a powerful force of water drifted people away. In the circumstances, the law enforcement tactics were following: after the first 3-5 jets to the front rows of the protesters (the nearest to the police), the water cannon posed and at this time the police ran up to the protesters and pulled several persons out and took them by hands and feet for several meters away or immediately carried to police cars. At the same time, according to all evidence from the eyewitnesses’ interviews, those people who did not manifest any resistance and the majority of whom was detained and delivered to the police stations, were beaten with hands or feet, dragged upon the asphalt, spoiling their clothes, although there were no grounds for such rigid arrests.
Separately, witnesses pointed out the actions of individuals who wore no police uniforms, but acted as police. Interviewed witnesses called those people “civil police” and, in our opinion, that could be criminal investigation officers, however, it raised questions whether it was proportional to use the servicepersons of the criminal police against peaceful protesters and whether it was legal for them to arrest peaceful protesters. At the beginning of the attack of the protesters some of these people put the bandage sleeve labeled “Police” on.
After 10-15 minutes of attack with the water cannon there were no protesters left at the Baghramyan Avenue, people fled, some of them ended up at Freedom Square, on the steps of the opera theatre, the others pursued by the police, ran side streets, trying to get to a safe place. It should be accented that in this case the police was a source of violence and none of the demonstrators had any intentions to refer to the police for protection of their rights, in particular, to find a safe place or protection from violence, therefore, the police had confirmed that the institution is not worthy to be defined as a law enforcement institution that ensures respect for human rights.
At the same time there the arrests of persons, who were brought to the police stations in Yerevan, continued. On general estimations 237 persons were arrested and they spent different time in the police stations, in between from 6 am to sometimes almost 17:00. However, as it appears from the testimonies of the arrested, at the police stations the servicepersons had treated them quite correctly, though, they could not explain the reason the protesters were detained and, therefore, they could not determine their status, suspect or witness. Police checked and interviewed people waiting for some further guidance or instructions how to deal with detainees. This shows that the decision upon arrest of these persons, determination of their status (suspect, witness) was not carried out by law, but solely on the grounds of political speculations.
Meetings with demonstration participants, who were dispersed or arrested on June 23, took place in an organisation, which is a co-founder and a member of the Human Rights House Yerevan. Picture was taken during the meeting with civil activist Artak Gevorgyan (pictured), who was arrested on the morning of 23 June. While in police, Artak argued with an investigator on the article on which he could be held accountable. Artak himself asked the investigator for long he was detained, for up to 3 hours or up to 72 hours that defined by the procedural status of the detainee. In response he heard: “Wait, we do not know ourselves ...”. Instead of three hours permitted by law Artak was detained for 12 hours.
After learning about the morning dispersal of by a water cannon and detention of several hundreds of protesters, at about several thousand people, demanding the release of detained protesters, went out to Baghramyan Avenue on June 23.
Worthy to admit that the Armenian authorities had agreed to this demand and till 18:00 all the arrested protestors were released from all police stations.
Given the facts described by the participants of the events, the attention should be drawn to these important issues and following recommendations suggested:
Resistance and use of violence against police
According to all interviewed protesters, they have not seen a single case of the use of violence against the police. I managed to record only two episodes of “counteraction” of the protesters: a use of vulgar words against the police in response to their brutal abuse and a thrown empty plastic water bottle.
The demonstrators showed the best level of non-violent resistance, so any use of force against them can be regarded as disproportional. During such actions it also has to be a regular contact between the police and the protesters in order to avoid any possible provocations and violent confrontation. On 22-23 June the protesters refused for various reasons to delegate a group of the representatives to negotiate with the authorities.
Police work should be transparent and accountable. The police actions during the dispersing on June 23 should be investigated and the results of such investigations should be made public.
The police must be with the identifiers (with numbers on their helmets and uniforms) in order to be able to personally identify those who acted unlawfully.
An important factor of restrain was the presence of independent monitors from different missions, including the international ones. In this case the active involvement of the Human Rights Houses Network and commitment to continue monitoring of the situation was very timely).
Employment of the police serviceperson in civil
This issue requires a separate study. It is the common practice when the operational law enforcement officers (and in this case the reference was to them) during the performance of their duties wear civilian clothes. They have the right to arrests persons, who have commit offenses, however, the question remains whether it is legal to the use this category of law enforcement officers against individuals who have not committed any crime and have demonstrated with their behaviour the highest level of non-violent, tolerant and peaceful confrontation.
One of the demands made to the protesters by the police was that instead of peaceful assembly, which were to take place at a certain spot at Freedom Square, proceed to a peaceful march, which was not previously announced. In addition, the protestors, according to the police violated rights of others, including the abuse of public order in place of the manifestation. Worthy to note that the events have taken place in the administrative quarter of the city where no residential houses, therefore, no residents to cause them inconvenience with the manifestation.
Violation towards journalists
The events of that morning were highlighted by the radio “Liberty”, web-site “1 IN”, “À1+.am”. That is why to “hide” anything was in vain, thus the more illogical appear the fact listed below.
When there were practically no demonstrators left at Freedom Square after their retreate from Baghramyan Avenue, according to one of the interviewed journalists, the deputy chief of Armenian Police Levon Eranusyan took a camera from one of operators, threw it on the asphalt and broke, and as well gave an order to arrest journalists. A witness of the incident, a professional journalist, had recorded the episode on your camera and tried to leave the area, however he was arrested and the video footage and photographs were seized. Here is how he has described the process of his arrest:
“On the way I tried to remove the memory card from the camera, I took it out and put it in my pocket, but the police, that followed me, had noticed this movement.
In the room where I was taken to was the deputy chief of the Armenian Police General Unan Poghosyan. I stood in the room for 5-10 minutes among the convoy. Poghosyan said, turning to me, “finished badly, at last”. He ordered to take away the camera and it was taken. “Remove the memory card and return the camera to him”. Policemen found the card, which was in one of my trousers’ pockets, because they noticed when I had taken it out the camera. They said to me, “Get lost”. I tried to defend my rights, referring to the legislation, complaining that it is the interference with the journalist work. Poghosyan said, “You can come later and we will return your card back with the erased information”.
Then he turned away from me. When he turned back, I asked, “Where can I get my card?” “What card?” “The one you have taken away from me” “What are you talking about, no one have taken nothing away from you”. I left. It was on June 23 at about 6:30”.
On 1 July, at the time when our conversation took place, the journalist had no information about whereabouts of the card from the camera which was seized from him on morning of 23 June. On the photo below there is the camera with the removed memory card.
Journalists have their right to engage their professional activities. In such situations they should be able to take actions against the police and given that, is important to form a network of professional lawyers specialising in media law. By the results of these events, in case of inappropriate investigation of violations of journalists’ rights, there are prospects of strategic cases through an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.