By Ruzanna KhachatrianA private law firm that has helped ordinary people file human rights lawsuits against the government claimed on Tuesday to be facing harassment by Armenia's National Security Service (NSS).
The head of the firm called Right, Vahe Grigorian, said the Armenian successor to the Soviet-era KGB has launched criminal proceedings against him on what he described as trumped-up fraud charges. He said the case was brought in retaliation for Right’s activities.
The NSS reportedly wants to prosecute Grigorian for allegedly cheating a client. It has already frozen the firm’s bank accounts and confiscated some of its documents. The security agency denies any wrongdoing.
Right first figured news reports last month when the NSS arrested an employee of Armenia’s Office of Human Rights Defender on bribery charges. Investigators also raided the office’s building in Yerevan, confiscating its main computer that contained information about individuals alleging rights abuses.
Some of those individuals filed complaints with the help of Right. NSS investigators visited and allegedly threatened Grigorian and other human rights lawyers. Their actions were condemned by Larisa Alaverdian, the human rights ombudsman.
The lawyers have also the government on behalf of some of the hundreds of Yerevan residents forcibly evicted from their old homes demolished as part of a government-backed redevelopment program currently implemented in the city center. The residents say the compensation paid to them by the state is extremely low and allege high-level government corruption.
Some of the lawsuits have already been thrown out by local courts and Right lawyers plan to their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. “The National Security Service is now showing interest in many of our friends and our clients,” one of them, Karapet Badalian, told journalists. “They visit and question them. They are constantly trying to obstruct our work.”
Badalian went on to compare the NSS actions to the mass repressions that marked the long rule of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “Whereas in the past they could immediately arrest and execute you, they are now somewhat restrained,” he said. “They are only threatening to beat and smash.”
Grigorian said the law firm is undaunted by the challenge and will continue to fight against the “mass deportations” in Yerevan.