Civic activists in Armenia campaigning against electricity price hikes have accused the police of “unlawfully” hindering their plans to conduct a sit-in in a central Yerevan square.
Since Monday hundreds of police officers have been deployed in the Armenian capital’s main Republic Square to prevent any attempt by Rise Armenia activists to move towards the central spot of the venue where the main government offices are located.
Among the demands of the movement is that the authorities reverse their decision to raise electricity prices, which is due to come into effect on August 1.
They also want the government to clearly indicate the source of paying for the temporary subsidy on the rate hikes that President Serzh Sarkisian agreed to put in place following large-scale street protests a month ago.
Rise Armenia and other activists believe it will still be taxpayer money despite assurances from government officials that they are going to use “extra-budgetary” funds for the purpose.
Unable to hold the sit-down protest, several dozen activists have been engaged in other types of “civil disobedience” actions. In particular, during the past two days they have been dividing into groups and walking back and forth on pedestrian crossings in an attempt to affect traffic. Since pedestrians have priority over vehicles at crosswalks formally activists do not break any traffic rule. Yet, police officers have had to step in from time to time to push the activists aside and clear the way for traffic.
Rise Armenia leaders have blamed the police themselves for the troubles they are having now. They say law-enforcement officials had better let them proceed with their campaign in an organized manner in the middle of the square, because otherwise they will still be kept busy by protesters elsewhere near the square.
“The police are taking unlawful steps, their bosses are giving unlawful orders to try to make us obey. Besides, they pinch and kick us, they push us and tear our clothes. The longer it goes the more this situation is getting on their nerves,” David Sanasarian, one of the leaders of the movement, tells RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Sanasarian, who is also an opposition member of the Yerevan City Council, says he is bewildered over the approach of the police that are deploying a considerable force against just a handful of protesters.
“We are showing the real picture and the real picture is that the police can use such great resources and get nothing instead.On the contrary, we keep them busy by making them follow us everywhere, but we want them to understand that we are here for a purpose and will not comply with their illegal demands,” the young activist says.
Besides demanding a reconsideration of the tariff hike, Rise Armenia members and other activists that have been engaged in what have popularly been known as Electric Yerevan protests want police officers responsible for the breakup of their June 23 protest to be removed from the system and prosecuted. They say they are not satisfied with the recent decisions to demote and “reprimand” several police officers in connection with the crackdown condemned by leading human rights groups.