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Armenia: Amnesty Concerned About 'Beating Of Election Protesters'

London, 12 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International (AI) has expressed concern about the reported beating and ill-treatment of Armenians who were arrested after demonstrations in Yerevan at the end of September against the disputed result of presidential elections.

The London-based human rights movement said in a statement on Tuesday that criminal charges brought against some of those detained may have been motivated by "purely political considerations".

It has told Armenian authorities it will regard anyone jailed for the non-violent exercise of their human rights as prisoners of conscience.

The AI statement refers to the demonstrations staged by thousands of Armenians to protest alleged irregularities in the voting procedures and subsequent count in the presidential elections on September 22.

Incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrosian was declared the outright victor of the election with 52 percent of the vote against rival Vazgen Manukian who was given 41 percent. Subsequently, Manukian's supporters took to the streets to dispute the official results.

AI says that on September 25, events turned violent when sections of the crowd attempted to storm the National Assembly building after it was assumed, mistakenly, that Manukian had been arrested.

AI says riot police responded with water cannons and fired over the heads of the crowd. According to official figures, 59 people were injured in the fighting including the speaker of parliament, Babken Araktsian, and his deputy, who were beaten by sections of the crowd.

Large numbers were briefly detained after the violence. AI quotes unofficial sources as saying more than 100 people were picked up, frequently, it is claimed, because of their political views rather than any direct connection to the events at the parliament. AI says: "Tens of people are said to have been beaten or otherwise ill-treated during their detention or while in the custody of law enforcement officials."

AI cites a number of cases including the alleged beating by armed men of a member of parliament, Aramazd Zakanian, who was later taken to hospital with injuries said to include a fractured skull.

AI also cites the case of Gagik Mkrtchyan, a reporter with the opposition Russian-language newspaper, "Golos Armenii," who says he was severely beaten while in Interior Ministry detention. He later said he was beaten "for being a journalist, for my articles."

AI approached Armenian authorities with its concerns about the reports of ill-treatment but said it has not received any response as to whether investigations had been started into those alleged responsible.

"AI was deeply concerned about the numerous reports of ill-treatment in detention and urged prompt, impartial and comprehensive investigation of allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officers"

AI says it does not dispute the right of law enforcement agencies to take all legitimate measures to bring to justice those suspected of committing a criminal offense. But AI says it is concerned about allegations that "criminal proceedings instituted against some of those detained and subsequently charged may have been brought out of purely political, rather than legitimate law and order, considerations."

AI is now seeking further information about the charges brought against those detained in Yerevan at the end of September, and urges authorities to ensure they are given prompt access to a defense lawyer.