Law-enforcement authorities have not yet arrested or charged anyone so far in connection with serious irregularities reported during Armenia’s constitutional referendum, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian said on Friday.
Kostanian said the Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies received over 460 reports of alleged fraud and violence during and after Sunday’s vote on President Serzh Sarkisian’s sweeping constitutional changes. They have opened 14 criminal cases but not brought corresponding charges against any election officials or other individuals yet, he said.
“The existence of a complaint does not necessarily mean a fraud report,” Kostanian explained at a news conference. “Secondly, a fraud report does not necessarily mean a fact of a crime. And thirdly, a fact of a crime does not necessarily mean criminal liability for individuals.”
Kostanian confirmed that the only referendum-related arrest was made in the run-up to the vote. The suspect is a pro-government member of an election commission in Yerevan accused of attempting to bribe an opposition colleague into turning a blind eye to fraud. The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) presented prosecutors late last month with a video recording purportedly proving the accusation.
“We would have charged 10 persons if there were sufficient grounds for that,” claimed Kostanian. “But this doesn’t mean that the process is over.”
In their official reactions to the conduct of the disputed referendum, the United States and the European Union have described fraud allegations voiced by opposition representatives and local observers as “credible.” They have urged the Armenian authorities to “fully investigate” them, saying that is essential for the legitimacy of the official results indicating a “Yes” vote for the constitutional changes.
Kostanian insisted that the law-enforcement bodies are doing their best to identify and punish those responsible for reported irregularities. Opposition groups campaigning against the proposed amendments will brush aside these assurances. They claim that the authorities rigged the vote to enable Sarkisian to extend his rule.
Sixteen of the fraud-related complaints mentioned by the chief prosecutor relate to violence against and intimidation of Armenian journalists who covered the referendum. So far the prosecutors have launched formal criminal proceedings in connection with only one of those cases involving Anush Mkrtchian, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Mkrtchian was attacked and threatened on Sunday by two individuals while reporting live on a steady stream of people entering a Yerevan office of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) with their passports and then being driven away in minibuses and taxis parked outside the office.
An office worker claimed that those voters were not paid to vote for the constitutional changes. Nobody has been questioned or charged in connection with that incident yet.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, cited the attacks on Mkrtchian and two other Armenian reporters in a statement released on Wednesday. “I urge the authorities to thoroughly investigate all incidents involving the violation of journalists’ rights,” Mijatovic said. “Impunity for violence against members of the media cannot be tolerated.”