The Armenian authorities must urgently ensure an impartial, independent and thorough investigation into allegations that police used excessive force – including dousing people with water cannon – to disperse a mainly peaceful demonstration before arresting more than 200 protesters on the streets of the capital Yerevan early this morning, Amnesty International said.
Yerevan police said they arrested 237 people after a crowd marched away from round-the-clock protests in a central square towards the presidential headquarters. Since 19 June, thousands of people have taken part in the demonstrations against rising electricity prices in Yerevan and elsewhere, including the town of Gyumri where 12 others were arrested.
“For the Armenian authorities to disperse what was up until then a peaceful demonstration is a heavy-handed tactic that must be avoided to protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Video footage showing high-powered jets from water cannon flinging peaceful protesters to the ground is a cause for concern,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“It is our understanding that the Armenian authorities are investigating the protesters for ‘hooliganism’, rather than the heavy-handed police response. They must not do this at the expense of an impartial and independent investigation into the police’s alleged use of excessive force, including water cannon, against demonstrators who may have obstructed traffic but were peaceful. Any security forces found responsible of violations must be disciplined or prosecuted.”
In a statement, police said that stones were thrown and that at least seven protesters and 11 police officials were injured. No serious injuries were reported.
Police and an eyewitness also confirmed that journalists were targeted as well as peaceful protesters. Despite the journalists showing press credentials, police confiscated and damaged video equipment.
“The allegations that police specifically targeted journalists have worrying implications for freedom of expression, and must also be independently investigated,” said Denis Krivosheev.