Targeted News Service
February 25, 2009 Wednesday 11:42 PM EST


Armenia: Skewed Prosecution Over 2008 Clashes

NEW YORK


Human Rights Watch issued the following news release:

Armenia has yet to hold the police accountable for their excessive use
of force a year after a day of clashes with protesters that led to at
least 10 deaths, Human Rights Watch said in a comprehensive report
today.

The 64-page report, "Democracy on Rocky Ground: Armenia's Disputed
2008 Presidential Election, Post-Election Violence, and the One-Sided
Pursuit of Accountability," details the clashes between police and
protesters in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, on March 1, 2008, in the
wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential polls. It also
documents the ill-treatment of individuals detained in connection with
the violence, and lack of comprehensive investigation and
accountability for excessive use of force on March 1 and in its
aftermath. The report is based on more than 80 interviews carried out
over three research missions in Armenia in 2008 and 2009.

"The full picture of what happened almost a year ago in Yerevan has
yet to emerge," said Giorgi Gogia, researcher at Human Rights Watch
and author of the report. "This much is clear: at various times on
March 1, security forces used excessive force against demonstrators."

On March 1, 2008, police clashed with protesters in downtown Yerevan,
demonstrating against disputed results of the presidential
election. In several episodes in different parts of the city, police
variously set upon protesters without warning or resistance,
negotiated, withdrew, and returned to the offensive and finally fought
a pitched battle with a small group of protesters. As a result, at
least 10 people died - eight protesters and two police officers - and
scores were injured.

While the Armenian authorities have investigated, prosecuted, and
convicted dozens of opposition members, sometimes in flawed and
politically motivated trials, in connection with the demonstration and
violence, they have not prosecuted a single representative of the law
enforcement agencies for excessive use of force.

Serj Sargsyan, the prime minister, was declared the winner of the
February 19, 2008, presidential election over the opposition
candidate, Levon Ter-Petrossian. A group of protesters contending that
Sargsyan's victory was the result of fraud established a continuous
protest on Yerevan's Freedom Square immediately after the election,
with daily rallies; some camped out overnight in tents set up on the
square.

Human Rights Watch research indicated that police used excessive force
in a pre-dawn raid on the tents on March 1, justified as a search for
weapons. This led to a much larger demonstration in front of the
French Embassy in downtown Yerevan. By evening, with a major, violent
confrontation unfolding on the streets of the capital, the outgoing
president, Robert Kocharyan, declared a 20-day state of emergency
during which public gatherings and strikes were banned and media
freedoms were significantly curtailed.

"The authorities' response to the March 1 events has been one-sided,"
said Gogia. "The fact that police were themselves under attack at
times by no means excuses them for incidents when they used excessive
force."

The report also documents ill-treatment of detainees and other
violations of due process rights following the March 1 events. Human
Rights Watch spoke to people who had been beaten during arrest, and
assaulted, verbally abused, and threatened while in police
custody. Many detainees were denied the right to inform their families
of their whereabouts, and were refused access to lawyers of their own
choosing.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to investigate the use of
police force in the March 1 clashes, emphasizing that each distinct
police action during the day should be assessed separately. Where
there was evidence that the use of force went outside the boundaries
of legitimate policing, all the perpetrators (including those who gave
the orders) should be prosecuted. Human Rights Watch also urged an
investigation into all allegations of ill-treatment of people detained
in connection with March 1 events, also leading to identification and
prosecution of those responsible.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress