Stop Violence and Illegal Criminal Prosecution | Den norske Helsingforskomité

Stop Violence and Illegal Criminal Prosecution

Stop Violence and Illegal Criminal Prosecution

In the period since Armenia’s disputed 6 December 2015 Constitutional Referendum, persecution, violence and threats against the regime’s opponents has intensified. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor strongly condemn the auhtorities' unlawful practices of the authorities. We require that they urgently abide by the legal framework Armenia is bound to as a member of the Council of Europe and as signatory to international human rights conventions.

–The ruling Republican Party of Armenia must take seriously the growing discontent coming from the citizens and refrain from arrests and violence that contribute to an escalation of the situation, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

In connection with the campaign and the referendum in December, protesters of the New Armenia (Nor Hayastan) Front and other activists have demonstrated in the central Freedom Square for months. They protest the regime and the referendum that many found to be merely a trick to keep President Sargsyan in power as Prime Minister after his term expires. Several marches and pickets have taken place over the last weeks.

On 1 January, New Armenia Front member Gevorg Safaryan and other activists were arrested during an event during New Year celebration on Freedom Square. Whereas others were released shortly after, Safaryan was put in two month pre-trial custody – a measure out of proportion for a minor incident. In what appears to be discriminatory treatment based on his pending criminal case in connection with a similar accusation from a demonstration in April 2015, this politically motivated detention brings the number of political prisoners in Armenia to 13.  Illegal criminal proceedings have also been opened against Hakaharvats (Counterblow) art group member Artak Gevorgyan.

Unknown offenders feared to be linked to the regime have beaten New Armenia Front supporter Suzi Gevorkyan and the outspoken protester Vardges Gaspari, and together with death threats via social networks against publicist Zara Hovhannisyan and her children, these acts constitute new and more violent forms of persecution of free and critical thinking in Armenia.

President Serzh Sargsyan has long failed to secure any public confidence in his regime. With the latest developments it seems the regime has intensified the targeting of persons with free and critical thinking, which contributes to creating a climate of fear in the republic.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor demand the release of Gevorg Safaryan and that the criminal prosecution against his is terminated. Those responsible for threats and violence against other civic activists should be identified and held liable for their actions.

–It is of utmost importance that Serzh Sargsyan’s regime meets the requirements above and takes concrete steps to prevent any further violence and unlawful acts against civic activists, says Artur Sakunts, head of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office. If such situation persists, there is a risk for instability in the country. In such case we would hold President Serzh Sargsyan personally and the RPA regime responsible for the consequences, he concludes.

The recent Constitutional Referendum in Armenia was criticized by domestic election observers as well as independent international observers of the PACE and EPDE. EPDE called the result illegitimate and were disappointed both with the campaign and the results. A wide range of systematic violations including abuse of administrative resources, ballot stuffing, carousel voting, multiple voting and abuse of voters’ lists took place. In addition, there was an unprecedented level of violence and threats against observers and journalists. Further, the content of the many amendments have resulted in poorer protection of human rights. However, the results were approved by the CEC, Armenia is now a parliamentary republic and the EU started negotiations with Armenia on the morning after the referendum.
NHC and the EPDE called the result of the referendum illegitimate. Read why here.

The Armenian authorities have a bad record regarding response to mass demonstrations, as demonstrated during the demonstrations following the disputed presidential elections in 2008, and Electric Yerevan in the summer of 2015.

See also the NHC report on civil society and activism in Armenia.