Former Armenian authorities violated citizens’ freedom of assembly when they broke up post-elections demonstrations in 2008, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said on Thursday in a ruling on an appeal lodged by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The ECHR at the same dismissed as “manifestly ill-founded” Ter-Petrosian’s claim that he was illegally placed under house arrest following the forcible dispersal of daily protests organized by him in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Ter-Petrosian and his supporters rejected as fraudulent official results of the February 2008 presidential election which gave victory to Serzh Sarkisian. The ex-president was the main opposition candidate in the disputed ballot.
Security forces dispersed Ter-Petrosian’s tent camp in Liberty Square early on March 1, 2008. The opposition leader was forced into a car and taken to his Yerevan residence from the square.
Thousands of his supporters barricaded themselves elsewhere in the city center later on that day. Eight protesters and two police servicemen were killed in ensuing violent clashes that broke out there. Citing the deadly violence, the outgoing President Robert Kocharian declared a three-week state of emergency in the Armenian capital.
Ter-Petrosian appealed to the ECHR in August 2008, saying that security forces breached his and his supporters’ freedom of assembly and illegally deprived him of liberty.
Upholding its September 2018 judgment on a similar appeal lodged by one of Ter-Petrosian’s former associates, the ECHR ruled that the breakup of the Liberty Square protests did not have “sufficient justification” and involved “disproportionate” use of force.
It said the crackdown violated an article of the European Convention on Human Right guaranteeing freedom of assembly. Ter-Petrosian also did not have “an effective domestic remedy for his grievances,” the Strasbourg-based court added in a statement.
Still, the ECHR ruled that it lacks “strong and unequivocal evidence” to conclude that Ter-Petrosian was kept under house arrest during the state of emergency. “The Court found that there was insufficient substantiation for these complaints and that this part of the application had to be rejected as manifestly ill-founded,” read the statement.
Vahe Grigorian, a lawyer who had lodged Ter-Petrosian’s appeal to Strasbourg, welcomed the ECHR ruling. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenians service, Grigorian said it represents further proof that the use of force against protesters camped on Liberty Square was “totally unconstitutional and illegal.”