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Police Violate Freedom of Assembly Especially During Protests Related to Russia

During protests, Armenian Police officers surpass their given authority, actively meddling in citizen activities, said political activist Zaruhi Hovannisyan during a Media Center discussion today. According to her, police officers are especially aggressive when there is a protest about foreign policy, especially with issues related to Russia. As an example, she noted November 14, 2014, when citizens were protesting in front of the Constitutional Court against Armenia’s EEU membership, wishing to also participate in the Court’s session, and a December 2, 2013 protest, related to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia. Hovannisyan believes that on November 14 police shoved people away from the Constitutional Court building for no serious reason, while making another group to move across the street.

“The police are demonstrating to the public that they do not have the right to assemble when it’s about Russian related issues,” said Hovannisyan, stressing that the police actions are, in fact, swaying attention away from the actual reason for the protest.

The November 14 protest participant, Civil Contract union governing board member, lawyer Arayik Harutyunyan stated that during the protest police officers never stated any legal demand to the protesters and did not justify their actions.

“For example, they continually say that the citizens are limiting others' right to move freely, but on November 14, they were two times more in number than were the protesters. They totalled 20 people, so when they were on the sidewalk, they blocked it,” said Harutyunyan.

Discussion participant, human rights defender Artak Zeynalyan noted that on November 14, the police’s limitation of the peaceful protest was illegal. According to him, even if the law plans certain limitations, they need to be suited and necessary for a democratic society.

“Here, what happened is not only illegal, but is also not necessary for a democratic society,” said Zeynalyan.

The human rights defender stressed that the Constitutional Court’s hearing, despite it being conducted under a written procedure, was an open door event, anyone could have participated and they did not have the right to restrict anyone from entering the Constitutional Court’s hall.

Zeynalyan also said that if they are putting the right of free mobility and the right of free assembly against each other, then a preference must be given to the latter, because it is an extremely fundamental right and it exists as a basis for democratic societies. The mission of the police is to make sure no one intervenes in the citizens' right to assemble, which, according to Zeynalyan, was not the case on November 14th.

The human rights defender remarked that after 2008, when the new “freedom of assembly” law passed, the police’s behavior was to an extent improved, however, during the last two years, it has gotten worse. He connected the fact with the authorities lack of legitimacy, because, according to Zeynalyan, legitimate authorities do not feel the need to defend themselves against the people with arms.

Zeynalyan noted that after entering the EEU, Armenia will become increasingly similar to those member states, like Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, where human rights are frequently suppressed.