Police violence against citizens, disproportionate restrictions of human rights and freedoms not only have not been limited in Armenia, but the number of such cases has even significantly increased in 2022.
199 cases of human rights violations were recorded based on mass media publications. As compared to the previous year, the number of cases increased by 20.1% (or 40 cases), and 54.8% (109 cases) as compared to post-revolutionary 2019.
The number of human rights violations by police officers during or as a result of participating in assemblies increased by 47.8% (or 94 cases) in 2022 as compared to 2021, and 72.8% (or 131 cases) as compared to 2019. Thus, in 2022, cases of human rights violations by police officers increased twice, while cases of human rights violations by police officers during assemblies exceeded more than thrice the lowest post-revolutionary indicator. Moreover, the percentage ratio of violations of the right to peaceful unarmed assembly, the right to liberty and security, the right to be free from physical violence has been the highest as compared to total cases of violations for the 8 years of monitoring. As compared to the previous year, cases of violations of the right to health doubled in 2022, thus recording the worst result over 8 years.
Moreover, activities of police officers become more and more unpredictable year by year. In particular, on 25 April 2022, the opposition started disobedience actions, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The actions were accompanied by the use of unjustified and disproportionate force by police officers, deprivation of liberty of persons without presentation of legal grounds, causing damage to citizens’ health, damage to property, use of force against minors and deprivation of their liberty, obstruction of the activities of journalists and use of force against them, involvement of masked plainclothes persons, without any insignia, in the places of gatherings, who used violence against the participants while apprehending them. Moreover, the illegal actions of the police are praised and justified by officials. It should be noted that the involvement of masked persons in gathering places has perhaps become common in post-revolutionary Armenia, while it is unacceptable for police officers to be on their duty without their insignia, and even more so for plainclothes masked persons to be present during rallies, which is a violation of law.
2022 was unprecedented in terms of illegal and disproportionate actions of the police against minors. In at least 10 days, more than 15 minors were apprehended, often with the use of disproportionate force: one minor had physical injuries, and two were beaten and subjected to degrading treatment by police officers.
Violence was used against citizens even when they were actually in the “hands” of police officers and could not show any resistance (for example, a police officer punched a citizen - being detained by his colleagues - several times on the head).
The police also used special measures (smoke and light-sound grenades) against citizens.
The monitoring results show that there were many situations when police officers did not control themselves. They indulged in provocations, insulted citizens, used street language with respect to the participants of the action, pushed them, damaged their property (car), despite the fact that the police uniform obliges them to stay within the limits of their powers and act exclusively in accordance with the requirements of the law.
Police officers, together with National Security Service officers, “protected” the Embassy of the Russian Federation from peaceful protesters, who were citizens of both Armenia and the Russian Federation.
Their right to hold peaceful assemblies was obstructed on the grounds that they were not citizens of Armenia. Let us record that the right to hold peaceful assemblies in Armenia should not be limited and conditioned by nationality or citizenship.
As documented by HRD publications, there were also many procedural violations in police departments (people were not explained their basic rights, they were not provided with an opportunity to exercise the right to remain silent, make a phone call, and other rights) and illegal actions (for example, plainclothes police officers took photos – with their mobile phones - of people being brought into the police department).
In 12 cases during the gatherings, journalists’ legal professional activity was hindered, which is twice as much as the index of 2021. Moreover, violent force was used against journalists and operators, including by masked persons and a high-ranking official, namely, the Head of the State Protection Service Sargis Hovhannisyan. It is noteworthy that the last case was investigated by the RA Investigative Committee and a decision was made to refuse to initiate a criminal case based on the lack of corpus delicti, justifying Sargis Hovhannisyan's actions with the constitutional right to privacy of telephone conversations and protection of personal data.
It was noted that the journalist should have stopped filming after receiving the request. We consider it necessary to remind the representatives of the law enforcement system, and in particular, Head of the State Protection Service Sargis Hovhannisyan and the RA Investigative Committee, that obstructing the legal professional activity of a journalist is prohibited by law. Moreover, the Head of the State Protection Service was at the assembly, the journalist’s question was not of a personal nature, but was related to the ongoing assembly, while the disrespectful attitude of representatives of state authorities, violence towards citizens, as well as journalists, is subject to liability.
The chart below shows the numerical comparison of 2021 and 2022 in terms of violations by police officers of the rights to conduct peaceful, unarmed assemblies, the right to liberty and security, the right to be free from physical violence, the right to health and the right to a fair trial.
As it can be seen from the chart, a total of 262 cases of violation of these 5 rights were recorded in 2021, while a total of 476 cases of violations of these 5 rights were recorded in 2022. Moreover, violations of all rights increased by 40-50%. These figures, and, in particular, the doubling of cases of violation of the right to health of citizens as a result of the actions of police officers, indicate the illegality of the actions of police officers and, at the same time, the deepening of the atmosphere of impunity in the law enforcement system.
It is noteworthy that the political majority of the National Assembly (NA) praised the actions of the police, despite their illegal and illegitimate nature. In particular, Hayk Konjoryan, the leader of the NA "My Step" faction, made a Facebook publication thanking the Police for their professional work, while Artur Hovhannisyan, deputy and media officer of the "Civil Agreement" faction, said: "...the law enforcement system honorably performed its duties of maintaining public order and acted proportionately". NA Speaker Alen Simonyan considered the actions of the police "generally proportionate".
Such assessments are incomprehensible and unacceptable. For example, punching several times on the head of a citizen being apprehended by 5 policemen, causing a bone fracture of a citizen, or terrorizing a minor cannot be considered legitimate and proportionate. Moreover, they are criminally punishable acts. In addition, it is illegal to bring plainclothes masked people to assemblies. The untrue assessments of high-ranking government officials do not contribute to the reform of the law enforcement system and undermine the maintenance of the principles of responsibility and accountability in the law enforcement system, as well as the formation of public trust in both law enforcement bodies and those who voice such assessments.
Such assessments also contribute to the maintenance of impunity, the peak of which was on 21 September 2022, when, violating all norms of legality, the police officers used force to apprehend the relatives of the fallen servicemen in Yerablur in a degrading manner. Though criminal proceedings were initiated with features of abuse of official or service powers, or the influence conditioned thereof by an official or exceeding powers accompanied by violence, until December 2022, the Investigative Committee could not identify the police officers who abused their powers, and that is why no-one had been involved as an accused. Moreover, the Police applied to Court to hold administratively liable the apprehended parents.
In the system, not only are illegal actions not properly investigated, perpetrators not identified and held accountable, but also, such actions seem to be encouraged, police officers who use violence are not only not removed from the system, but also promoted.
In 2022, HCA Vanadzor, based on media publications, sent several reports to the RA Prosecutor General’s Office, on the basis of which criminal cases were initiated. In particular, on 25 March 2022, HCA Vanadzor filed 9 crime reports on the illegal actions of police officers with respect to the participants of the peaceful protest action near the
Embassy of the Russian Federation in Armenia, as well as the cases of police violence against protesters and journalists during the disobedience actions that started in Armenia on 25 April 2022, on the basis of which 2 criminal cases were initiated.
The organization also sent an information inquiry to the RA Police regarding the investigation of the violations recorded in 98 media publications, as well as in the publications of the Office of the Human Rights Defender. In response, on 29 December 2022, the Internal Security Department of the RA Police provided information on 26 publications (see the full response of the RA Police Internal Security Department in the Appendix), only in one case was a disciplinary penalty in the form of a "Reprimand" applied to a police officer. In case of the other 19, the service investigation was terminated before the criminal proceedings were completed; in one case, no penalty was applied to a patrol officer based on the first part of Article 16 of the RA Law "On Approving the Disciplinary Code of the RA Police" in five cases no features of a disciplinary violation were found in the actions of the police officers, studies are being carried out on the other 72 publications to resolve the issue of service investigation.
As for the cases of violation of individual nature, the level of public awareness about them has decreased sharply. In 2022, one of the incidents of individual nature was the torture of sculptor Eduard Vaneskehyan in the Arabkir Police Department. It is noteworthy that the RA Investigative Committee considered it necessary to publish a statement only 20 days after the incident. Moreover, according to the statement of the investigative committee, on the day after the incident, on November 20, a public criminal prosecution was initiated against E. Vaneskehyan on account of not obeying the legal requirement of the RA Police and prima facie use of force, and five police officers were identified as victims. At the same time, on the basis of the report filed by the lawyer on November 19 regarding the torture of E. Vaneskehyan, criminal proceedings were initiated only 3 days later. Moreover, as of 9 December 2022, no investigative action had been taken. Artur Sakunts, Chairperson of HCA Vanadzor, addressed the incident in detail during a press conference at "Media Center".
Thus, we can conclude that the police system, despite the declared reform strategy, did not actually undergo a radical change, and the officers did not acquire the skills to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Moreover, the actions of police officers, mainly due to the atmosphere of impunity in the system, are becoming more and more arbitrary and illegal, and the clarifications and interpretations of the law enforcement system are aimed at justifying officials and officers, rather than protecting the law and justice.
HCA Vanadzor will consistently observe the investigation of the cases recorded in media publications.
The full report is available in Armenian here