Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Armenian authorities to immediately drop the charge of incitement of national enmity against Yazidi rights activist Sashik Sultanian.
In its June 16 statement, HRW said the charges against Sultanian are "in retaliation" for his interview in which he talked about problems faced by the Yazidi community in Armenia.
Yazidis are mostly Kurdish dialect-speaking people with their own faith that has elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam.
“Although Armenian authorities might disagree with the content of [Sultanian’s] interview, the opinions he expressed in it fall squarely within the boundaries of legitimate speech, protected under international law,” said HRW's associate Europe and Central Asia director, Giorgi Gogia, “The authorities should immediately drop the charges against [Sultanian] and ensure that there is no undue interference in his legitimate human rights work.”
Sultanian chairs the Yazidi Center for Human Rights, an NGO that since 2018 has worked on community mobilization, awareness raising, and anti-corruption issues in Armenia.
The probe against the activist was launched in October 2020, after the interview in question was published by Yezidinews.am website in June that year.
Sultanian said in the interview that Yazidis face discrimination in Armenia, being unable to study in their language and develop their culture. Sultanian also said in the interview that Yazidis are underrepresented in local government structures, adding that Armenians had seized Yazidi property, that authorities do not protect their rights, and that Yazidis live “in fear.”
The probe against Sultanian was launched after the Veto Movement, a radical group that has built a reputation for aggressive hostility against human rights defenders in Armenia, filed a complaint with the authorities.
According to HRW, several procedural regulations have been violated during the investigative process.
“Armenian authorities are violating [Sultanian’s] right to his freedom of expression,” Gogia said. “While fighting national and ethnic hatred is the government’s responsibility, it’s not achieved through criminalizing legitimate speech or otherwise violating the rights of those who speak out on sensitive matters.”
The total number of Yazidis is estimated at some 1.5 million, of whom the majority reside in the Middle East. There are some 40,000 Yazidis in Armenia.