Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned as “savage” the beating of yet another Armenian anti-government activist and called on the authorities in Yerevan to identify and punish those responsible for the violence.
In a statement released late on Tuesday, the New York-based watchdog stressed that Smbat Hakobian, a member of the Alliance of Freedom Fighters, was assaulted and severely injured on Monday shortly after taking part in an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan.
“The effectiveness of the investigation into the vicious assault on Smbat Hakobian will be a true test of how seriously the Armenian government takes its commitment to free expression and peaceful assembly,” Rachel Denber, HRW’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, was quoted by the statement as saying.
“People in Armenia shouldn’t be risking serious injury to take part in a peaceful protest,” Denber said. “The government needs to make clear that anyone who interferes with peaceful protesters will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”
HRW noted in that regard that three other members of Hakobian’s organization, which unites Armenian veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war critical of the government, were beaten up in Yerevan late last year. “No one has been held accountable for those attacks,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Armenian police said on Wednesday that they have detained three men on suspicion of involvement in Hakobian’s beating. A police spokesman did not identify them, saying only that none of the suspects is called Tigran.
Hakobian claimed on Tuesday that one of his attackers, a certain Tigran, works as a bodyguard for Ruben Hayrapetian, a controversial businessman close to the government. He said that Hayrapetian threatened him with violence when he attended last June’s street protests in Yerevan against an electricity price hike. The tycoon angrily denied any involvement in Hakobian’s beating, branding the activist a “well-known liar.”
Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service from his hospital bed on Wednesday that he continues to suspect Hayrapetian of having a hand in the assault. He at the same time sounded optimistic about the outcome of the criminal investigation launched by law-enforcement authorities. He said that Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the national police service, twice phoned him on Monday to inquire about his health condition and offer support.