Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday that the Armenian authorities have failed to properly punish law-enforcement officials responsible for what the New York-based watchdog called excessive force that was used against anti-government protesters in Yerevan in July.
HRW singled out the violent dispersal late on July 29 of a demonstration held in support of armed members of a radical opposition group who seized a police base in the city’s Erebuni district.
The protesters marched to the Sari Tagh neighborhood overlooking the besieged police compound. Firing stun grenades and tear gas, riot police dispersed the crowd after protest leaders ignored their demands to leave the “dangerous” area and go back to the city center.
More than 60 people were injured and hospitalized as a result. As the crowd fled Sari Tagh at least 14 journalists, among them three RFE/RL correspondents, were ambushed and beaten up by a large group of plainclothes men wielding sticks.
In its annual World Report, HRW insisted that the use of force was “excessive and disproportionate.” “Police did not attempt less violent crowd control means, and did not make any meaningful effort to warn crowds to disperse or about their plans to use force,” it said.
“Police and unidentified people in civilian clothes acting with them, then charged towards the protesters, punching, kicking, and using wooden clubs and iron bars to beat some protesters, before detaining many of them,” adds the report.
“Six months later, we are still waiting for accountability for abuses committed by law enforcement during Yerevan’s July protests,” Giorgi Gogia, HRW’s South Caucasus director, said in a separate statement. “Authorities were swift to prosecute numerous protesters, but have not credibly investigated, much less prosecuted, abusive police officials with the same rigor.”
The statement argued that while the authorities sacked the Yerevan police chief and suspended or reprimanded 17 other policemen, no law-enforcement officials have been prosecuted so far in connection with the Sari Tagh crackdown.
Late last month, President Serzh Sarkisian awarded a Medal for the Excellent Maintenance of Public Order to General Levon Yeranosian, the controversial commander of Armenian interior troops who played a key role in the crackdown. A presidential decree noted Yeranosian’s “significant” contributions to “law and order” in Armenia.
HRW also denounced as “arbitrary” the arrests of dozens of people linked to the July protests. It said that criminal charges levelled against some of them are “unjustified.”