An Armenian law-enforcement agency launched on Friday a criminal investigation into excessive police use of force against protesters and journalists which was reported during last week’s dispersal of a demonstration in Yerevan.
The police detained more than 230 people early on June 23 as they broke up a protest on the city’s central Marshal Bagramian Avenue against a controversial electricity price hike. All of them were set free several hours later.
More than two dozen protesters were injured in the crackdown. Sixteen of them reportedly filed lawsuits with the European Court of Human Rights in the following days.
The Armenian police also attacked and detained more than a dozen reporters and smashed or confiscated cameras used by some of them. Among them were RFE/RL journalists Artur Papian and Sisak Gabrielian and cameramen Garik Azibekian and Garik Harutiunian. General Levon Yeranosian, a deputy police chief, swore at them as they were attacked by his subordinates in the city’s Liberty Square.
The officers broke Papian’s mobile phone and smashed a video camera that was used for the live streaming of the overnight protests. Azibekian was also forced to surrender another camera’s memory card.
The police seemed particularly anxious to get hold of professional footage of the crowd dispersal criticized by the United States, the European Union and Western human rights watchdogs.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Friday that it has opened a criminal case in connection with those abuses. It said the investigation will be conducted under Criminal Code articles dealing with abuse of power, obstruction of journalists’ work and deliberate damage caused to their equipment. The SIS did not immediately charge anyone.
Armenian press freedom groups reacted cautiously to the criminal proceedings, saying that it remains to be seen whether any police official will be prosecuted for the violence. “Closing a criminal case is very easy,” said Ashot Melikian of the Committee To Protect Freedom Of Expression. “So opening one alone doesn’t mean much.”
Some of the attacked journalists were also skeptical. “All that [violence] was done deliberately,” said Mkrtich Karapetian, a correspondent for the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. He said senior police officers looked on as plainclothes men attacked him and smashed his camera on Marshal Bagramian Avenue.
“The situation at the square was chaotic,” said RFE/RL’s Papian. “They were catching both protesters and journalists indiscriminately. They were hitting everyone indiscriminately.”