The U.S. government and a respected international human rights group on Thursday added their voice to strong condemnations of a recent series of violent attacks on Armenian civic activists and urged the authorities in Yerevan to punish their perpetrators.
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia singled out the September 5 beating of Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian that followed their participation in a protest against government plans to join a Russian-led customs union. It also noted similar assaults on several other, younger activists reported since August 22. The latter participated in an ongoing youth sit-in demanding the resignation of two senior municipal officials in charge of public transport in Yerevan.
“Along with the attacks, there have been multiple reports of activists being followed, intimidated, and harassed,” the embassy said in a statement.
“We urge the government of Armenia to take swift action to condemn the attacks and to investigate, and prosecute the perpetrators. The government should ensure that its citizens can exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, expression, and speech without fear of retribution,” read the statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the attacks in letters sent to the heads of the Armenian police and the Special Investigative Service (SIC), a law-enforcement body subordinate to state prosecutors. “Officials should swiftly bring the attackers to justice and make clear that any violence against people for exercising their right to peaceful protest will be neither tolerated nor condoned,” the New York-based group said in a separate statement.
“If thugs keep jumping on protesters and beating them up as they leave for home, that’s hardly a coincidence,” Giorgi Gogia, a senior South Caucasus researcher at HRW, was quoted as saying. He said the Armenian authorities should conduct “effective investigations that lead to arrests and prosecutions.”
Nobody has been arrested or charged in connection with those incidents so far. Arshamian, Saghatelian and other victims portray this fact as further proof that the attacks were aimed at forcing them and other activists to stop challenging the government.