“Armenia experienced one of its most serious civil and political rights crises since independence when security forces used excessive force on March 1 against opposition demonstrators protesting the results of the February 2008 presidential election”, – the Human Rights Watch report released yesterday says.
The report notes, that the February 19 presidential election, won by Prime Minister Serj Sargsyan, was marred by election-day violence and irregularities.
“On election day, assailants threatened and attacked opposition activists protesting what they believed to be electoral fraud, domestic observers, and journalists at eight polling stations. Several assaults occurred in the presence of police and election officials who did not intervene; in one case a policeman appeared to assist assailants.”
Noting, that after 10 days of peaceful protests by ‘tens of thousands of supporters of Levon Ter-Petrossian’, the special police forces resorted to violence on March 1, as they ‘confronted the demonstrators using excessive force, beating them with batons and attacking fleeing demonstrators’, HRW also remark, that “some demonstrators also resorted to violence, including throwing stones and burning vehicles”.
“Police committed due process violations including incommunicado detention, denial of access to counsel, and failure to investigate allegations of ill-treatment. Subsequent trial proceedings raised fair trial concerns: several detainees were convicted solely on police testimony and in expedited trial proceedings.”
The report also raises serious concern with media freedom in the country, noting, that the police targeted journalists covering the February demonstrations.
Incidents with photojournalist Gagik Shamshyan, Asparez director Levon Barseghyan, Armenian Times reporter Lusine Barseghyan, Radio Liberty acting director Hrach Melkumyan and other cases received attention. The GALA TV and A1plus cases, the conviction of Zhamanak Yerevan editor Arman Babajanyan have all been covered.