An Armenian law-enforcement agency has launched a criminal investigation into reports that police assaulted journalists and used excessive force against protesters that took to the streets to voice support for an armed opposition group.
“According to reports, police officers used disproportionate force against citizens and obstructed the lawful work of journalists and lawyers,” the Special Investigative Service (SIS) said in a weekend statement. “A criminal case has been opened.”
The SIS said it has clear indications that police officers abused their powers when they detained scores of people following the armed group’s July 17 seizure of the police station in the city’s Erebuni district. It said some of them claimed to have been beaten up, kept in detention longer than is allowed by Armenian law or been denied access to lawyers.
The SIS also pointed out that some Armenian journalists were attacked by law-enforcement officers while covering the protests staged in support of the police station attackers.
The reported abuses, strongly condemned by Armenian human rights groups, “inflicted substantial damage on the legitimate interests of the public and the state,” it said.
Four journalists, including an RFE/RL correspondent, have reported such attacks to date. One of them, Gevorg Tosunian of the Iravaban.net news publication, says he was beaten up by plainclothes officers as security officers dispersed a violent crowd late on Wednesday.
According to Tosunian, they also confiscated the memory car of his video camera containing footage of pitched battles fought by the police and angry supporters of the gunmen occupying the police station. The reporter lodged a formal complaint with the Armenian police later in the week.
As of Monday evening, the SIS reported no arrests of or criminal charges levelled against law-enforcement officials.
By contrast, the authorities formally charged six protesters that were arrested during or after Wednesday’s violent clashes that occurred on a street leading to the seize police station. The Investigative Committee, another law-enforcement body, said they all have been remanded in pre-trial custody.
Four other men have been arrested and charged in connection with similar violence that broke out last Tuesday in Yerevan’s Sari Tagh neighborhood adjacent to the Erebuni area cordoned off by security forces. More than two dozen local residents also voiced support for the gunmen as they clashed with riot police.