Police prevent opposition attempt to stage protest action

Armenian Police prevented the attempt of a group of 20-30 young opposition supporters to hold a protest-action in front of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) “to mark one year of the elections faked on February 19, 2008.” today.

At 14:30 about 30 young oppositionists came up to CEC building, bearing posters and three-colored flags and chanting, “Serzhik, go away!”

The demonstrators had hardly moved for 10 meters when the representatives of law enforcement bodies rushed to tear the posters and leaflets. They tried to arrest some of the demonstrators but failed due to the interference of opposition politicians – Vladimir Karapetyan, Aram Manukyan and Zaruhi Postanjyan (MP).

The opposition is planning to conduct a big rally and a march on March 1, to commemorate the 10 victims of the events of March 1, 2008. Yerevan Municipality has not authorised the rally and the march, although the opposition claims the Municipality has responded to their notification about the event after more than 72 hours defined by RA Law on “Meetings, Raalies, Protests and Demonstrations”, which would technically mean that the rally is authorised.

RFE/RL: Belgian Goes on Hunger Strike in Armenian Capital

Hunger strikes have become a fact of life as of late – nobody seems to pay any attention to them any more. People go in an out of hunger-strikes every day. However, this one story carried by RFE/RL is certainly one of special interest – a 51-year-old citizen of Belgium, Luc Vandevale, who is married to an Armenian and is based in Armenia – working in the construction industry, has gone on an open-ended hunger strike in Yerevan, protesting ‘the presence of political prisoners’ in the country. According to RFE/RL, the Armenian wife of the Belgian hunger-striker is not affiliated with any political party or organization in Armenia. The Belgian himself claims he is a ‘pacifist’ and is not campaigning for any particular force in Armenia, but simply wants to see Armenia as a democratic country.

Luc Vandevale, a 51-year-old builder currently based in Armenia, told RFE/RL he meant his hunger strike in the Armenian capital’s central Northern Avenue as a demand for the release of political prisoners in Armenia.

“It is not acceptable to have political prisoners in a democratic country. It means it is not a democracy,” Vandevale said to RFE/RL in French. “Armenia that represents the Council of Europe must release political prisoners.”

The Belgian said he could not plan for how long he would continue his action, but added that it depended on “the state of democracy in Armenia.”

Clearly this is moral-rising for us – the people concerned with the state of democracy in Armenia. On the other hand, I hope no political dirt comes out of this story, although given the fact, that the state-propaganda have chosen to keep silent, comes to assert, that the Belgian and his wife are indeed genuinely concerned with democracy and are not affiliated with any political force in the country.

Armenian news headlines during the week

The big news at the start of the week was ex-president Robert Kocharyan’s interview given to Mediamax News Agency in response to ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s speech on May 1st. Quite expectedly, Kocharyan talked complete crap, noting, that as he is not Armenia’s President anymore, he will be more unrestrained in his speech – not that he was ever restrained or anything.
Basically, while the great, educated egotist Ter-Petrossian was analyzing the situation in Armenia in nicely formulated sentences and trying to establish grounds for dialogue with current president of Armenia – Serzh Sargsyan, by laying most of the blame on Kocharyan, the Second president of Armenia chose to respond in the manner typical for his semi-educated egotistic self, calling the First president names, like “dumb” (տկարամիտ) and “deeply indecent” (խորապես անպարկեշտ), and saying, that it was the opposition who needed the blood and deaths on March 1st. [text here was edited, as the original post contained obviously biased points of views] Now, while I clearly recall at least one case, when Levon Ter-Petrossian spoke on the rallies, saying, that they will go till the end, that doesn’t mean, that human casualties can be blamed on the opposition. Moreover, in the situation, when the country disparately needs peace and reconciliation, and when the opposition has just attempted the first vague steps towards dialogue, Kocharyan’s words are rather unwelcome.
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Amid widespread public scepticism government undertakes some positive steps

Public attitude remained generally skeptical towards the efforts of President Sargsyan and PM Sargsyan to restore public trust by undertaking some positive steps over the past couple of weeks.

One of the first such steps was the dismissal of Armen Avetisyan, the chairman of the the Armenian Customs Service (ACS) for the last 8 years and the followed by a meeting of President Serzh Sargsyan with the ACS officials. On this highly publicized event President spoke about his determination to uproot corruption in the country especially in services like the Customs and Tax Inspection. While sincerity of his words is dubious, this genuine attempt by President Sargsyan to raise the government’s profile largely failed, because of rumors last week, that the import tariffs for manufactured goods have sharply risen, which was followed by a demonstration in front of the government building on Republic square. Coupled with sharp rise of natural gas prices announced two weeks ago, and then the recent reports that the gas prices will climb even higher by 2011 left no further room for optimism for middle class to poor families across the country.
Another blow to the authority of the government, internationally as well as at home, came as the resolution passed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 17 called for the Armenian authorities to file an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters and “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” It also said that the recently enacted legal amendments which effectively banned opposition rallies should be repealed “with immediate effect.” The Strasbourg-based assembly threatened to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members if these measures are not taken before its next session due in June. In an attempt to turn the unfavorable international resolution into a tool to reach compromise at home, President Serzh Sarkisian established an ad hoc group, headed by President’s new chief of staff Hovik Abrahamyan, which is to look for solutions and present suggestions to overcome the political crises in the country. The effectiveness of this step is yet to be seen, however, it is clear, that a Presidential decree quickly releasing all, but the most serious offenders and mauradeours of March 1, would have been the most effective means to regaining public trust and appreciation of international community, rather then superficial half-measures like creation of committees head by highly discredited politicians like Hovik Abrahamyan.
On a related note, Armen Harutyunyan, the Ombudsman of Armenia – also released his report, echoing the international calls for an independent investigation and challenging the official accounts of March 1 riots, stating, in particular, that the Armenian police have so far failed to produce any evidence of firearms being used by the protesters against the police.
With no signs of the ongoing political crises in the country ceding anytime soon, all the other positive steps undertaken by the government are lost on public. Among such positive steps were undoubtedly PM Sargsyan’s announcements on Friday, that Government will start holding outgoing regular sessions in various regions of Armenia from now on, and that to enable more transparency of government actions the journalists will be allowed to follow government sessions live from the government’s Press Center and that more interest will be paid to media publications from now on, starting with the case of Syunik Governor (Marzpet) Suren Khachatryan published by Aravot Daily. Hopefully this, and more positive steps undertaken by the new government, mediocre and lacking political capital as it is, will soon render some kind of positive results and raise public confidence, otherwise we will be on a sure way to a final and total devastation, which is not something that any Armenian wants.

Photos by Tsitsernak and Azatutyun.am

Women demand fair trial

About 150 women had gathered in front of the general prosecutor’s office to demand fair trial and freedom for political prisoners. They also conveyed a letter to the prosecutor’s office.
“Today, we have not come here to celebrate our feast but we have come here to demand freedom for our husbands and men. Since they are in prisons, we cannot celebrate it,” says Heghine Harutyunyan, a participant of the action. That was included in the letter signed by the gathered women and conveyed to the general prosecutor’s office of Republic of Armenia.
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OSCE, Council of Europe: amendments to Armenia's assembly law raise serious concerns

STRASBOURG/WARSAW, 02.04.2008 – In a joint legal opinion, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that recent amendments to Armenia’s assembly law raise serious concerns.
The amendments to the Law of the Republic of Armenia on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies and Demonstrations, passed on 17 March 2008, were reviewed by the ODIHR’s Expert Panel on Freedom of Assembly and the Venice Commission following a request from the Speaker of the Armenian Parliament.  
“On the basis of a preliminary assessment, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR Expert Panel on Freedom of Assembly do not consider the proposed amendments to be acceptable, to the extent that they restrict further the right of assembly in a significant fashion”, says the joint opinion.
The amendments tighten provisions concerning spontaneous assemblies, and limit the possibility for decisions on restricting assemblies deemed to pose a risk for public order to be reviewed by an independent tribunal or court. In addition, a provision allowing for small events to develop spontaneously into bigger assemblies – which was considered a good practice example and made the Law in its previous form stand out as progressive – has been repealed.
The joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR  was shared with the National Assembly on 28 March 2008, and will be discussed with National Assembly representatives in Yerevan on 15-16 April 2008. 
The joint opinion continues the long-standing cooperation between the Armenian authorities, the ODIHR and the Venice Commission on the legislative regulation of public assemblies.

Aghvan Hovsepyan gives details of March 1 deaths

E-channel reports some details of the meeting of Peter Semnebi, the special representative of the European Union in South Caucasus with RA General prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepyan, who has told during the conversation that “8 people have died as a result of the disorders, 1 of them – a policeman – from an explosion of a grenade; 3 have died as a result of the special means applied (according to the initial conclusion of the experts); 4 have died of injuries caused by gunshot wounds. The bullets taken out of the bodies have various calibers, which allows to say that various types of arms have been used during disorders, and the preliminary investigation faces the task of revealing all those circumstances. 265 people have been injured, 210 of them being police officers. 68 cars have been set on fire, 10 objects of private property have been destroyed and robbed, including a pharmacy.”
The prosecutor has also informed Semnebi that “all the arrested and detained persons have been subjected to medical examination while being taken to location for keeping the arrested persons, as well as to criminal executive institutions, and all their injuries have been registered. 12 accused persons have been registered to have injuries, and expertise has been appointed in order to find out how they had been caused.”

Silent protest action in Yerevan

An action of tribute to the victims of March 1, as well as protest against the clashes of March 1 and the following arrests that took place during the state of emergency was staged in Yerevan yesterday. E-channel reports, that the police had announced about the illegal nature of the protest.

At the beginning of the action, at 17:00, a few thousands of protest action participants had gathered at the Northern Avenue.

At 17:10, people started moving by the pavements to the square near the Myasnikyan monument. Many of them had photos of arrested people, as well as candles in glasses. Near the Myasnikyan monument, the police banned people to congregate, and a part of the action participants decided to go on walking to the Mashtots Avenue and reach the Opera.

Near the Margaryan hospital, the police approached the action participants, announcing “Your march is not licensed, please disperse.” The police banned the action participants to move on. An electric shocker was applied against a man – he was forced into a police car and taken away. The police demanded people to disperse, prohibiting them to stand at that segment of Mashtots avenue. A 60-years-old man asked the police, “Are you cleaning the area?” A police commander with an electric shocker instructed to take that man into a police department. The latter did not resist and quietly got in the police car.

About 15 minutes later, there were no participants of the action of protest in Mashtots Avenue.

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Bryza and RA MFA exchange contradicting statements on March 1 violence in Armenia

Having returned to U.S. afte a visit to Armenia, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, has sharply condemned a government crackdown on protests following last month’s presidential election.

“The violence really was deplorable,” Bryza said Monday.”It seems clear that the reaction by the government was harsh and brutal.”

Tigran Balayan, Head of the RA MFA Press Division, has said, in response to a question by ‘Mediamax’ News Agency:

We’re astonished that even after his visit to Yerevan, after meeting with and hearing from various official and unofficial sources, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza could make such arbitrary statements.Assigning such one-sided blame is unfounded and not helpful. The number of wounded law enforcement officers (108) — 43 of them wounded by firearms and hand-grenades — clearly demonstrates that rioters were in posession of firearms and explosives. That coincides with the operative information of law enforcement agencies which had informed the public about all this, days before the events of March 1. In that case, labeling the reaction of the government as “a crackdown on opposition protests”, or qualifying it as “harsh and brutal” is incorrect. This was not at all an attack by policemen on civilians.Armenia’s challenge, now, 10 days after that disastrous day, is to fully explore and understand what happened and find ways to move forward together.The international community’s focus should be to encourage all involved to take responsibility for the damage to the fabric of our society and to look for inclusive ways to move forward.Ill-informed statements can and do contribute to an escalation of political tension.

Official Report by Republic of Armenia Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender)

The human being, his/her dignity and the fundamental human rights and freedoms are an ultimate value. The state shall ensure the protection of fundamental human and civil rights in conformity with the principles and norms of the international law.
The state shall be limited by fundamental human and civil rights as a directly applicable right.

Constitution of the RA
(Article 3)

1. Even from the pre-electoral campaign period, the public activities of different political bodies resulted in the atmosphere of intolerance in our society. Unfortunately the calls for tolerance, made both by competent international organizations and by the Human Rights Defender  were  ignored. Even more, the atmosphere of intolerance turned into mutual hatred after the tragic events on the March 1.  
2. The events of March 1 started from the forced dispersal of the demonstrators in the Azatutyun square early in the morning. It was officially announced that there was an accumulation of  weapons in the place of demonstration, and Police officers simply tried to inspect the area but faced tough resistance. 
Continue reading “Official Report by Republic of Armenia Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender)”

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