Armenia: Police used unjustified violence against the participants of peaceful assembly
The assembly in Yerevan was peaceful and the police used excessive force to disperse the assembly. This is one of preliminary conclusions by human rights groups on events in Armenia, where people marched against the rise of electrisity fees in the country.
On June 22, 2015, at 19:00, in Freedom Square, Yerevan, an assembly started against the electricity price rise. At the beginning of the assembly the organizers several times announced that the assembly was exceptionally peaceful and presented legal justifications for conducting the peaceful assembly. The participants of the assembly marched from Freedom Square to Tumanyan Street, then to Mashtots Avenue and passing the French Square they marched to Baghramyan Avenue.
4000-5000 people participated in the march. About 200 policemen blocked the protesters’ path on Baghramyan Avenue. A police representative announced several times with a loudspeaker that the assembly was illegal, however, it should be stated that the sound of the loudspeaker was not loud and audible for everyone. The protesters announced that they would not retreat and would win. The police officers had breastplates, helmets and shields. There were water cannons and barbed wires behind policemen on Baghramyan Avenue. Encountering the police barricade, the participants of the march sat down on the ground in the middle of the Avenue.
The participants of the assembly had musical instruments with them – drums, zurna. They were singing patriotic songs and dancing national dances. They were waving flags of Armenia and the European Union, holding posters with different slogans. At about 22:00 the policemen announced that the RA President proposed a delegation of 4-5 people to go for negotiations, but the protesters rejected the proposal. The assembly was held under peaceful assemblies, sometimes even the policemen and the protesters made jokes, the latter even treated the policemen with water and sweets. At 23:00 the participants of the assembly stopped the music and the loud noise. At 24:00 masked policemen in black arrived at Baghramyan Avenue. There was a corridor between the participants of the assembly and the policemen, “Angels” regiment was standing in front of the corridor, and representatives of mass media were between them and the participants of the assembly.
At night on 23 June, at 01:00, the lights on Baghramyan Avenue were turned off. The number of protesters up to 05:00 in the morning was 500-800 people. At about 05:00 the police announced with loudspeakers that the assembly was banned and the protesters should leave the Avenue. At that moment the majority of protesters were sitting at a distance of about 10 meters from the police line. After the request, the policemen stood in a special arrangement (“Angels” regiment behind patrols, internal troops round the water cannons in the middle, the Special Purpose Division /DON/ behind the cannon and 40-50 policemen in civilian clothes – some with distinctive features) and surrounded the protesters from the two sides.
The water cannon directed the water flows in the direction of protesters sitting in the middle and together with the troops started to move forward. When the distance between the policemen and participants was about 5 meters, all police units headed by internal troops attacked the protesters and tried to detain them, although the latter tried to stay in their places. The detention was often accompanied with the blows of shields and truncheons, throwing the people on the ground violently, choking them off with arms, these was mainly done in groups of 4-5 persons. There were cases when the protesters were hit with truncheons and pushed toward various solid objects (fences, columns, walls). When the police officers reached Mashtots-Saryan crossroads, started chasing the running protesters in all directions, including Moskovyan Street and North Avenue. In Freedom Square, from the stage in front of the Opera House, the policemen dragging dozens of protesters brutally threw them down the stairs.
Besides participants of the assembly, journalists were also detained, cameras and other equipment were broken. The observer of Helsinki Committee of Armenia was also detained, but was released some time later. Numerous participants were injured. Overall, 600-700 police officers participated in the operations.
As a result of observations, the following conclusions were drawn:
- The assembly was peaceful and the police used excessive force to disperse the assembly.
- Police used unjustified violence against the participants of peaceful assembly.
- The persecutions and detentions did not pursue legitimate purpose.
- The work of journalists and observers was hindered.
- The number of police units was excessive from the point of view of security concerns.