By Emil Danielyan
A leading international human rights organization urged the authorities in Yerevan on Friday to investigate beatings of opposition activists and journalists reported during Armenia’s presidential election.
“These election-day attacks targeted the very people trying to ensure the integrity of Armenia’s vote,” Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “The Armenian government should carry out independent and speedy investigations to ensure justice is served and to send the message that intimidation won’t be tolerated.”
The statement detailed nine concrete cases of proxies of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, two opposition parliamentarians and at least three journalists who claimed to have been assaulted by government loyalists in and outside polling stations. The Ter-Petrosian campaign reported dozens of such assaults on voting day.
“Most victims had been attempting to expose what they believed to be violations of electoral rules, such as incorrect voters’ lists, intimidation of voters, violations of the right to a secret ballot, and ballot-box stuffing,” said HRW. “None of the victims was able or willing to return to the polling station to continue observing the voting.
“In several incidents, the assaults took place in the presence of police and polling station officials who did not intervene, and in one case a police officer appeared to assist the assailants.”
Law-enforcement authorities opened criminal cases but has not yet charged anyone in connection with some of those incidents, including the reported kidnapping of a Ter-Petrosian proxy from a polling station in Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. The proxy, Larisa Tadevosian, said she was driven out of Abovian and beaten up by three men after refusing to turn a blind eye to fraud. She identified one of the assailants as the chief bodyguard of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman close to outgoing President Robert Kocharian.
A similar incident was reported in Yerevan’s northern Avan surburb. Two Ter-Petrosian proxies there claimed to have been kidnapped and severely beaten by a group of men led by Ruben Hayrapetian, another government-connected tycoon.
HRW also urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “look into election-related violence and ensure that its final report on the vote records these incidents.” The preliminary election report by some 400 representatives of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament who monitored the February 19 election made only a brief reference to “a few isolated violent incidents” reported by the Ter-Petrosian campaign.
The observers concluded that the Armenian authorities held the vote “mostly in line” with democratic standards.