The Armenian authorities have still not properly investigated fraud reported during the February 2008 presidential election and the deadly suppression of ensuing opposition protests, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The New York-based group also criticized the authorities’ broader human rights record, saying that they continue to tolerate abuse in police custody and restrict civil liberties. The criticism was contained in its annual World Report that scrutinizes human rights conditions in over 90 countries and territories worldwide.
“The Armenian authorities have yet to ensure meaningful investigations into excessive use of police force during March 2008 clashes with opposition supporters protesting alleged fraud in the previous month's presidential election, and address related allegations of abuse in police custody,” reads the report. “A number of opposition supporters reportedly remain imprisoned in connection with the March 2008 events.”
HRW has already criticized the Armenian government’s response to the post-election protests, that left eight civilians and two security personnel dead, before. “Officials claimed to have opened 200 internal inquiries into police conduct, but only four police officers have been charged in two separate cases for excessive use of force,” it said on Wednesday.
“More than 50 civilians were prosecuted in relation to the March violence, with some sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Although a June 19, 2009 presidential pardon released many, local human rights groups maintain that 17 opposition supporters remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges,” added the respected watchdog.
The authorities in Yerevan maintain that that the Armenian opposition led by defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian tried to stage a coup d’etat at the time and that the use of force was therefore justified. A parliamentary inquiry boycotted by the opposition likewise concluded in September that the police actions were largely “legitimate and proportionate.”
The HRW report notes that many of more than 100 opposition supporters arrested in the crackdown claimed to have been ill-treated in custody. Local and international watchdogs have long regarded police brutality as one of the most frequent forms of human rights violation in Armenia.
The report lists violent attacks on several Armenian journalists reported in 2009. Some of those reporters were assaulted by government loyalists while covering the May 2009 municipal elections in Yerevan.
HRW also noted that A1+, a once popular TV station pulled off the air in 2002, has still not been allowed to resume broadcasts despite winning a ruling against the Armenian government from the European Court of Human Rights in 2008. The group went on to accuse the government of continuing to restrict freedom of assembly.
“Out of 84 opposition requests for demonstrations and rallies, only 28 were granted,” said HRW. “Opposition parties and some NGOs allege particular difficulties in securing meeting venues for indoor events.”