YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Armenian police said on Wednesday that they have still not launched formal criminal proceedings in connection with last week’s assault on two prominent civil society activists which was strongly condemned by local and international human rights groups.
Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian were beaten up by several unidentified men and hospitalized late on September 5 shortly after attending a demonstration against Armenia’s membership in a Russian-led customs union. The incident took place in the courtyard of Arshamian’s apartment building in central Yerevan.
A spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the police are continuing to investigate the beating but have not yet opened a formal criminal case, something which is necessary for arresting and charging suspects. The official insisted that this must not be construed as a cover-up.
Arshamian, who is a program coordinator at the Yerevan Press Club, dismissed these assurances, saying that the police are not willing to solve the case because they realize that government authorities may have been behind the beating. He argued that there are many surveillance cameras on the street leading to his neighborhood and that police investigators could have easily located the car which he and Saghatelian say followed them on that night. “They are not motivated to solve the case,” claimed Arshamian.
The high-profile beating was the latest in a series of violent attacks on activists challenging the Armenian government. At least six young men participating in an ongoing sit-in outside the Yerevan Mayor’s Office have assaulted by unknown thugs since the end of August.
Reacting to the latest incident, more than 30 Armenian non-governmental organizations signed a joint letter asking the UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights to help stop what they described as systematic violence against individuals critical of the government. They claimed that the violent attacks are the work of “criminal elements” acting with the connivance of the police.
Amnesty International demanded last week that the Armenian authorities investigate the September 5 attack “impartially and effectively.” “The authorities are obliged to promote the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Only an effective investigation will demonstrate that they take their human rights obligations seriously,” the London-based group’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said in a statement.