The Armenian police gave youth activists protesting against a controversial electricity price hike until Saturday morning to unblock a major Yerevan thoroughfare or risk violent dispersal.
In a statement released late on Friday, the national police service said the closure of Marshal Bagramian Avenue runs counter to an Armenian law regulating freedom of assembly and “disproportionately breaches the public’s interests.” It dismissed protesters’ claims that security forces must not break up the demonstration because it is peaceful.
“Freedom of assembly does not and cannot have an absolute character and can be limited in a democratic society for the sake of maintaining public order and defending other persons’ constitutional rights and freedoms,” said the statement.
The statement also argued that No To Plunder, a youth group leading a campaign against the price hike, specified a different route when it notified municipal authorities earlier this month about its plans to organize a protest march through downtown Yerevan. It said the protesters must therefore leave the avenue by 5 a.m. on Saturday.
The police already used force against No To Plunder members and supporters at the same section of Marshal Bagramian Avenue and at around the same time on June 23. The violent crackdown backfired, with a larger number of Armenians re-occupying the avenue later on that day.
A few hundred protesters who remained on the blocked street shortly after midnight seemed in no mood to disperse. “We will go only after our demands are met,” one activist told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).