The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, criticized the Armenian police on Saturday for using excessive force against protesters and assaulting journalists during an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan.
The violence unfolded as the police broke up a demonstration held in support of opposition gunmen occupying a police station in the Armenian capital. Three RFE/RL journalists were among reporters beaten up by plainclothes men thought to be law-enforcement officers or their agents.
“All of that was very troubling but it’s particularly troubling, when journalists are targeted for excessive violence,” Mills told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I’m very, very concerned about what happened last night.”
“I also came to RFE/RL [bureau in Yerevan] today to meet with the team here … to express my support for what they’re doing and my hope that tonight, throughout the weekend and the coming days as this situation continues there will be restraint on the part of government authorities and everyone who is exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” he said.
“We urge the Armenian government to take immediate steps to prevent a repeat of last night’s actions and to direct the Armenian security forces to maintain order in a manner that upholds all Armenian citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly,” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said in a separate statement.
“At the same time, we also urge protestors to responsibly exercise their freedom of assembly by exercising restraint, eschewing violence, and avoiding the active standoff at Erebuni police building,” it said.
Mills also called for a “full investigation” into Friday’s violence. He warned that Armenian law-enforcement officials responsible for human rights abuses could be sanctioned by the U.S. government.
“We have mechanisms in place to ensure that those who might have been involved or responsible for excessive violence last night, as determined by investigations and credible reports, are not allowed to participate in any U.S. government funding program or training,” the diplomat said. “And we will ensure that that happens.”