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Rights Group Says Armenian Government Fails On Police Accountability In Protests

Armenians in July 2016 demonstrate in support of opposition gunmen who seized a police station.
Armenians in July 2016 demonstrate in support of opposition gunmen who seized a police station.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Armenian government has failed to ensure full accountability for violence conducted by police against "largely peaceful" protesters and journalists in July 2016.

HRW on July 30 said that, meanwhile, during the past year, at least 32 protesters have been indicted, with 21 of them being convicted and 11 receiving prison terms.

“A year after Yerevan’s July protests, victims of police violence are still waiting for justice and accountability,” Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at HRW, said in releasing a new report.

“The public’s trust in police and the justice system is severely shaken, and an effective accountability process is essential for restoring it,” he added.

Hundreds of Armenian protesters sympathetic to an armed opposition group holding hostages at a police headquarters in Yerevan clashed with police on several nights in July 2016 after their demand to provide food to the gunmen went unheeded by authorities.

The gunmen’s demands included the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of Founding Parliament, a radical opposition movement.

The gunmen eventually released all police officers they were holding in exchange for an opportunity to talk to the press.

HRW said that before the gunmen surrendered on July 31, “public support for them and disaffection with the government grew into a protest movement, with almost nightly demonstrations in the capital.”

HRW called the protests “largely peaceful.”

“At some protests, the authorities used excessive force, assaulting many demonstrators as well as journalists reporting on the events,” its report said.

“Authorities arbitrarily detained many protest leaders and hundreds of participants, pressing unjustified criminal charges against some. No officials have been prosecuted,” it added.

Human Rights Watch said the authorities opened an investigation into police misconduct, but the investigation has led to “limited accountability.”

“No criminal charges have been brought against any law-enforcement officials,” the rights group said.

It added that some police faced disciplinary actions, including dismissals. The Yerevan police chief was fired in August 2016 for “failing to prevent violent attacks on protesters and journalists.”

However, HRW said that in December 2016, Sarkisian awarded the Yerevan deputy police chief, who participated in police operations against protesters on July 29, a medal for “excellent maintenance of public order.”

"The government should make publicly available any credible evidence that justifies the serious criminal charges against the protest organizers and participants,” HRW’s Gogia said.

“The authorities should not seek to prosecute protesters and impose long prison sentences in retaliation for their vocal, but peaceful activism,” he added.

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