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“Intensified service” activities of the RA Police and NSS are not in line with the aim to ensure public order and security in a democratic state and are disproportionate

July 23, 2021

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On the evening of 21 July 2021, the RA Police, with participation of the National Security Service officials, conducted so-called “intensified service” by searching vehicles traveling inside Yerevan and vehicles traveling from Yerevan to regions and vice versa. Citizens raised alarm that there were traffic jams in various parts of the city for one-two hours.  

 

No justification or explanation was provided in respect of the above-mentioned mass activities that compromised and, according to some assessments, even paralyzed traffic in and outside Yerevan. As a result, questions objectively arise regarding the legality, proportionality and grounds of activities and checks implemented by law enforcement officials with involvement of a great number of human, technical and material resources.   

 

It was only a day after the incident that the RA Police, seeing the public’s reaction and discussions, as well as circulation of various new hypotheses, disseminated information on the results of the intensified service implemented. 

 

The Police did not mention the real aim of the extremely intensified service inside almost the whole territory of and some parts outside Yerevan city (keeping public order and road traffic safety is the obligation of the Police, yet doing the above-mentioned obligation through intensified service must have a compelling justification). They simply stated that “during the intensified service, 49 persons were brought to Police divisions under various suspicions, various searches and inspections were conducted and as a result, different types of firearms  and ammunition were discovered. Besides, 4 cases of illegal drug circulation were revealed during the intensified service…”. By making such an announcement, not only do the Police call into question the proportion between the large-scale measures taken and the aim and results thereof, but they also raise concerns of further disproportionate measures by stating that “Such special measures are of regular nature”. 

 

Firstly, the lack of credible and grounded information from law enforcement bodies entails a number of presumptions among the public. These presumptions, in their turn, imply a need for a rational explanation about the cause-and-effect link between the scope of the measures taken and the aim pursued. Whereas instead of giving an explanation, the Police even deepened the doubts and real concerns. For example, one of the circulating hypotheses concerns disclosure of an armed or subversive group by the Police or NSS workers; if that were true, it is clear even to a non-professional that activities disrupting traffic and inspections conducted by entering private areas should have been preceded by a number of procedural measures and operative activities aimed at identifying potential members of the armed group, locating them and their weapon or armaments, calling on citizens to help in disclosing the alleged crime and informing citizens about the identified features and distinguishing signs of perpetrators.

 

While, the absence of any announcement and presentation of a vague explanation later, not taking any measures to involve citizens in the disclosure of the alleged crime, groundlessly searching those very citizens without any exception (by thus considering everyone “suspects” of the alleged crime), the warning of further large-scale and yet unjustified activities, once again substantiate the assumption that such large-scale event organized with the involvement of a big number of material resources should be properly justified in terms of keeping public order and ensuring security in a democratic state, and those activities should be proportionate to the aim pursued. 

 

As a result, professionalism in implementing such a large-scale measure is reasonably called into question along with other concerns about its legality and justification. 

 

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets, “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

 

Referring to admissibility and legality criteria of the Police search of persons, the European Court recorded  that there is a zone of interaction of a person with others, even in a public context, which may fall within the scope of “private life”. (“Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom § 61). In that case, the Court found that the stopping and searching of a person in a public place without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing իս a violation of Article 8 (ibid., § 87). 

 

In the frame of another case, the ECtHR recorded that it is vital that such actions be in line with the aims pursued. The European Court recognizes the state’s power to define, at their discretion, and solve issues related to search and confiscation, and at the same time, the Court finds that it is particularly important to be vigilant in matters where the authorities exceed their powers in the frame of the national law.  With respect to this issue, the European Court finds that the right to respect for private life can be guaranteed against authorities’ arbitrary interference when legislation sets strict limits on restrictions and when interferences are in line with the aims pursued by the bodies conducting search and confiscation.  

 

It should be mentioned that the RA legislation also regulates the above-mentioned relations. In particular, the Police can conduct inspection and search of vehicles in case of possessing precise data on keeping or transporting illegal weapon, ammunition, explosive materials (Article 23 of the RA Law on Police), the RA Police can inspect vehicles, as well as the cargo being transported, in the presence of drivers or citizens, in case of possessing information or having reasonable suspicion on transportation of objects, materials and items withdrawn from civil circulation, property, objects obtained through criminal means, instruments of crime and other objects carrying crime traces (Article 24 of the RA Law on Police).  

 

The RA legislation clearly states that strongly intrusive actions of Police shall be substantiated by reasonable suspicion or precise information on a violation of law. Besides, citizens have the right to demand that Police officers clarify the reasons and legal grounds of the actions being taken. RA Policemen must always do their obligations set by law. 

 

Actually it turns out that the RA Police and, according to a number of sources, also the RA NSS workers made direct and mass interference with the private life of individuals. Still, the legality of that interference has not been clarified or commented on so far. Moreover, the lack of credibility of the disseminated announcement is evidenced by the obvious disproportion between the measures taken and the results recorded.

 

Therefore, until there is no official credible explanation or comment on the above-mentioned, all the circulating hypotheses - including the demonstration of power by the government being formed, and attempts at kindling an atmosphere of fear from that power among the society - have the right and ground to persist.

 

One of the foundations of a democratic state governed by the rule of law is the public authority restricted by human rights and freedoms, and a high level of accountability is one of the evidence of its existence. Thus, the competent bodies must give an official statement and give the public the justification for the mass searches.  With regard to reforms being made in the RA Police system, they should progress based on respect toward principles of protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, legality, necessity and proportion, since that is what a state proclaiming itself democratic and governed by the rule of law should be.  

 

Let us remind that Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor protects, free of charge, human rights violated as a result of allegedly illegal actions of the state competent bodies. Therefore, should you find your rights and fundamental freedoms violated as a result of such activity, you can apply to the Organization by calling at 094-04-22-68.

 

At the same time, we demand that a discussion be organized with participation of all interested parties, namely, the Police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Government, NA deputies and civil society representatives, to assess the legality and proportionality of Police actions of 21 July 2021 entitled “intensified service”.

 

  Vanadzor

23 July 2021 

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