Human rights in Armenia

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Human rights in Armenia are better than those in most former Soviet republics and have drawn closer to acceptable standards, especially economically. Still, there are several considerable problems. Overall, Armenia's human rights record is similar to that of Georgia's. Armenia has been labeled as "partly free" by organizations such as Freedom House.[1]

Political freedom[edit]

Since the ouster of Levon Ter-Petrossian as president, political freedom has seen some improvement. Ter-Petrossian's administration saw constitutional change that secured more power for the president than the parliament. He also banned nine political parties (including, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation). Ter-Petrossian's semi-autocratic style of governing and his gradualist approach to solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict led to his ousting and the succession of Robert Kocharyan as president.[1]

Economy and human rights[edit]

Corruption remains a problem as of 2009, according to U.S. Department of State.[2]

Women[edit]

Reporting domestic abuse causes resistance from the police, courts and society. It is often seen as a 'taboo' to speak out against domestic abuse.[3]

Police brutality[edit]

There have been reports of police brutality and arbitrary arrests carried out. Beatings and torture of detainees before trial is used to obtain confessions or information. Demonstrations against the government have been dispersed with force, and opposition leaders have been detained. Abuse is common in the army and is suspected as the cause of many suspicious deaths.[4]

Incidents[edit]

On May 12, 2007, Levon Gulyan, who was called to the police as a witness to a murder case, died in the Police Main Department of Criminal Investigations after allegedly being beaten to death and thrown out a window by Hovik Tamamyan, the First Deputy Chief of the Police Main Department of Criminal Investigations.[5] Police say that Gulyan slipped and fell down the first floor while trying to escape police custody. A preliminary forensic medical examination by forensic specialists from Denmark and Germany states that Gulyan's death was the result of fatal injuries that included fractures of the skull, thorax, spine and ribs. According to ArmeniaNow, "murders committed inside the police are not disclosed."[6] In a letter addressed to the Head of Police, the Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) cited suspicions on the police explanation of Gulyan's death and mentioned that torture and ill-treatment by the police remain serious problems in Armenia, as noted also by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture in its 2004 report on Armenia.[7]

A partial list compiled by ArmeniaNow names 11 others who suspiciously died while under police custody.[8]

2008 Armenian presidential election protests[edit]

A series of mass protests were held in Armenia in the wake of the Armenian presidential election of 19 February 2008. Mass protests against alleged electoral fraud were held in the capital city of Yerevan and organised by supporters of the unsuccessful presidential candidate and first President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. After nine days of peaceful protests at the Opera Square, the national police and military forces tried to disperse the protesters on 1 March.[9] The protests began on February 20, lasted for 10 days in Yerevan's Freedom Square, and involved tens of thousands of demonstrators during the day and hundreds camping out overnight. As a result, 10 people were killed. Despite the urges of the government to stop the demonstrations, the protests continued until March 1. On the morning of March 1, police and army units dispersed the 700-1,000 persons who remained overnight, beating them with truncheons and electric-shock devices.[10][11][12] As of March 4, many protesters are still missing.[13] Since March 1, Ter-Petrosyan was placed under de facto house arrest.[9][12][14]

Freedom of expression and of the media[edit]

While the media has a degree of independence, the freedom of press in Armenia is limited. Some independent channels, such as A1+, Noyan Tapan, and Russian NTV, have had their frequencies taken away by the government. Journalists covering a demonstration against President Robert Kocharyan were attacked when police intervened to detain the protestors.[15]

In January 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists -- international media watchdog -- criticized the Armenian government for maintaining a tight grip on the country’s broadcast media and accused them of routinely harassing local journalists challenging them.[16] According to the CPJ report, new amendments to Armenian broadcasting law in 2010 positioned President Sarkisian "to maintain control over the country's docile television and radio stations, most of which were owned by pro-government politicians and businessmen."[16] The report also claims that the Armenian police officers “routinely harassed, assaulted, and arrested journalists” in 2010. “Prosecutors regularly colluded in this practice by failing to investigate police officers, even filing charges on occasion against journalists who protested abuses, CPJ research showed.”[16]

Television[edit]

Other than the Gyumri-based GALA, virtually all Armenian TV stations, including the Yerevan-based national networks, are controlled by or loyal to the government. The only major private network that regularly aired criticism of the government was controversially forced off the air in 2002.[17]

In 2010, the Armenian government passed a set of controversial amendments to Armenian law on broadcasting that enables government regulators to grant or revoke licenses without explanation, as well as impose programming restrictions that would confine some stations to narrow themes such as culture, education, and sports.[16] The Committee to Protect Journalists suggested that these amendments are primarily aimed at keeping the independent TV station A1+ off the air. It also pointed out that GALA TV, another, functioning independent broadcaster based in Gyumri, will be taken off the air in 2015 because of the amendments.[16] Both A1+ and GALA TV failed to win new licenses in supposedly competitive tenders administered by the National Commission on Television and Radio in late 2010.[16]

2008 State of Emergency[edit]

Following the 2008 Armenian presidential election protests, President Kocharian controversially declared a 20-day State of Emergency on March 1, and used it to ban all public gatherings and censor all media (both Internet and in print) to include only information sponsored by the state. Also, the authorities closed several opposition newspapers along with their websites, including A1+ and Haykakan Zhamanak. Furthermore, the government blocked access to the YouTube website which contained videos from the March 1 protest and late night clashes with police that showed special forces firing automatic weapons directly into the crowd. Also blocked was the radio transmission and website access to Armenian Liberty, a service of Radio Free Europe.

Attacks on journalists[edit]

Frequent attacks on journalists of non-state sponsored media is a serious threat to Armenia's press freedom.

On April 30, 2009, Argishti Kiviryan, a coordinator of the ARMENIA Today news agency (a paper known for its opposition stance), was severely beaten on his way home from work in Yerevan. Three unknown individuals reportedly assailed and severely beat Kiviryan causing him serious head and face injuries. His condition was reported as "serious but stable" after he was taken to the Erebuni medical center.[18] The Human Rights Defender of Armenia, Armen Harutyunyan, condemned the act and, noting that almost all cases of violence against the journalists taken part in the past have not been disclosed, called upon the Police to investigate and disclose his assailants.[19]

On November 17, 2008, Edik Baghdasaryan, Armenia's most prominent investigative journalist and editor of Hetq, was violently attacked and sustained a severe head injury for which he had to be hospitalized. The attack was likely connected to his reporting.

Freedom of movement[edit]

Law enforcement authorities regularly block public transport access from nearby towns to Yerevan whenever there is a large opposition rally in Yerevan. On March 1 2011, public transport between Yerevan and nearby regions ground to a halt in a government effort to lower attendance at a major rally to be held by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).[20] Bus stations in small towns close to the capital -- including Etchmiadzin, Artashat, and Masis -- effectively stood idle in the morning and early afternoon, leaving scores of local commuters stranded. Police patrols were also deployed on major roads leading to Yerevan. Police reportedly say that this is part of a special police operation aimed at tracking down stolen cars, or that police are looking for weapons. Both law enforcement and government officials denied opposition claims that the authorities are thus trying to keep many Armenians from joining anti-government demonstrators in Yerevan.[20]

Freedom of religion[edit]

The Armenian Apostolic Church has a considerable monopoly in Armenia, possessing more rights than any other registered religion. Other religious minorities include Russian Orthodox Christians, Syriac Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Yazidis, and Jehovah's Witnesses. By and large, Armenia's Muslim community (once composed of Azeris and Kurds) is virtually nonexistent due to population exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Yazidis and the Jehovah's Witnesses are the most harassed religious minorities in Armenia. Feeling a threat to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian government has continuously harassed Jehovah's Witnesses using such methods as preventing them from registering as a religious group and imprisoning them for their refusal to serve in the military.

The Yazidis came to Armenia during the 19th and early 20th centuries to escape religious persecution. According to the 2001 Census, there are about 40,000 Yazidis in Armenia.[21] According to the 2004 U.S. Department of State human rights report, the Yazidis are subjected to harassment in Armenia, including the hazing of Yazidi army conscripts and poor police responses to crimes committed against the Yazidis. A high percentage of Yazidi children do not attend school, both due to poverty and a lack of teachers who speak their native language.[2][22]

Democracy rating[edit]

The Economist magazine rated Armenia as a "hybrid regime" in 2007, the third lowest out of four categories in their Democracy Index. Armenia was rated 112th out of 167 countries and third from the bottom in the hybrid category. It was noted that it could be easily "tipped into an outright authoritarian regime".[23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Freedom House: Annual Report 2005: Armenia
  2. ^ a b U.S. Department of State 2009 Report — see Section 4
  3. ^ http://www.wrcorg.am/en/activities.htm
  4. ^ Human Rights Watch World Report 2006
  5. ^ Do they need to kill while investigating a murder case?, Human Rights in Armenia, May 23, 2007.
  6. ^ Escape or Torture?: Police under spotlight as death of witness raises questions, ArmeniaNow, May 18, 2007.
  7. ^ Open Letter to the Armenian Head of Police on the Death of Levon Gulyan in Police Custody , International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, May 17, 2007.
  8. ^ Deadly Pattern: Gulyan death not the first to raise suspicion about police treatment, ArmeniaNow, May 18, 2007.
  9. ^ a b "Report by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Thomas Hammarberg, on his special mission to Armenia, 12 – 15 march 2008", Council of Europe, March 20, 2008.
  10. ^ "Protestor on scene tells of melee", ArmeniaNow.com, March 1, 2008 (noon)[dubious ]
  11. ^ "Armenia: Police Beat Peaceful Protesters in Yerevan", Human Rights Watch (NY), March 2, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Ter-Petrosyan ‘Under House Arrest,’ Rally Broken Up, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 1, 2008.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Human Rights Watch Demands Probe Into Armenian Crackdown", Armenia Liberty (RFE/RL), March 4, 2008.[dead link]
  14. ^ "Armenia: At Least 2 Dead in Yerevan Violence, as Kocharian Declares State of Emergency", Armenia: Vote 2008 (EurasiaNet.org), March 1, 2008.
  15. ^ Amnesty International Report 2005
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Western Watchdog Deplores Government Control Of Armenian TV", Armenia Liberty (RFE/RL), February 15, 2011.
  17. ^ "Embattled TV Raising Money To Stay On Air", Armenia Liberty (RFE/RL), March 19, 2008.
  18. ^ Grigoryan, Armine (1 May 2009). "Ambushed: Attack on journalist raises concerns over safety of profession in Armenia". Armenia Now. Retrieved 1 May 2009. 
  19. ^ "Violence against the journalist" (Press release). Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia. 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  20. ^ a b Shoghikian, Hovannes (1 March 2011). "Travel To Yerevan Restricted Ahead Of Opposition Rally". RFE/RL. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  21. ^ Information from the 2001 Armenian National Census
  22. ^ Denge Ezidiyan article
  23. ^ "Democracy Index", Laza Kekic, Economist Intelligence Unit, The World in 2007.

External links[edit]