VoA: Rights Group Calls for Investigation into Harsh Treatment

Rights Group Calls for Investigation into Harsh Treatment of Armenian
Melanie Sully
Voice of America.
14 Apr 2004, 15:48 UTC

The International Helsinki Federation, a human rights body that
advises the United Nations, said harsh treatment of anti-government
protesters in Armenia is a violation of political and human rights and
that international experts should investigate the abuses.

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
(IHF) accused authorities in Armenia of using violence against
demonstrators, and called for the end of what it says is the
authoritarian rule of President Robert Kocharian.

Demonstrations against the Kocharian government have occurred almost
daily since the beginning of the month.

The IHF says police used water cannons to break up a rally Tuesday
near the presidential palace in the capital, Yerevan.

President Kocharian insisted the measures were necessary to combat
political extremists who he said were threatening the constitutional

However, IHF Director Aaron Rhodes says the oppression is likely to
lead to more confrontation and instability. “What they [the
authorities] are doing by disallowing these demonstrations, they are
really perpetuating disorder,” he said. “There are many reports of
police brutality, and including brutality to journalists and a number
of people have been beaten in the context of these demonstrations and
have wound up in hospital.”

Mr. Rhodes added that some journalists had their cameras smashed and
cell phones were disconnected. He also said that copies of a Russian
daily newspaper covering the demonstrations were stopped at the border
and that some television stations were unable to transmit for a time.

Police were reported to have raided opposition offices, smashing
computers and detaining activists.

Mr. Rhodes called for an independent investigation into such incidents
with experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE), of which Armenia is a member. The OSCE has criticized
recent Armenian presidential and parliamentary elections, saying they
were flawed.

The State Department has said it is concerned over the sharp
escalation in confrontation between the government and its opponents
in the Caucasus republic, once part of the Soviet Union.