On April 16, 2012, at approximately 10:30-11:00, 200 citizens with posters and flags and escorted by police officers, approached the office of HCA Vanadzor.
A large group of protesters entered the office and demanded that the Organization not provide space for the Caucasus Center of Peace Making Initiatives (CCPMI) to present a screening of Azeri films in Vanadzor on April 17th. Other protesters also entered the office and started threatening and demanding an urgent response. Artur Sakunts informed the protestors that the Caucasus Center of Peace Making Initiatives had postponed the festival just that morning. The delegation then demanded that Sakunts come out and announce it to those gathered outside. Considering the potentially volatile situation as well as to protect his employees from further violence, the Chairman of the Organization announced that the film was cancelled with the loudspeaker provided by the organizers of the protest.
However, some time later the delegation returned tothe office and demanded that the Organization not provide space for screening of the movies at all. Meanwhile the protesters began to throw eggs and rocks at the office. 2 rocks broke the windows and entered the office. One of the rocks hit an employee of HCA Vanadzor.
There were threats and insults directed at the staff members of the Organization.
The police did not take any action to ensure the safety of the staff members andto prevent callsfor violence and the violation of public order, even though the Organization telephoned and informed the police about the need to take action to ensure the safety of the staff members. However, no police action, regarding the unpredictable situation, was initiated.
Considering the created situation and in order to prevent further erratic consequences, the Chairman of the Organization publicly announced that the event would not take place.
Chronology of Actions and Decisions by the Law Enforcement Bodies
1. On April 16, 2012, the Organization applied to the RA Lori Region Prosecutor and the Head of the RA Lori Region Police Department requesting them to take measures to ensure the safety of the of the activities and employees of the Organization.
2. On April 16, 2012, the Chairman of the Organization received a message from the Head of the Lori Region Investigation Division of the RA Police General Investigation Department. According to the note, “There is a need to obtain clarifications from you and those who were present at your office during the incident.” In response, the Organization authorized their Advocate, Karen Tumanyan, to represent the HCAVs’ interests. This was conveyed to the investigation division and a video footage of the entire incident was provided. The advocate informed in writing that there was no need for anyone from the Organization to provide explanations.
3. On April 17, 2012, during a meeting with reporters, Karen Shahbazyan, the Lori Region Prosecutor, referred to the incident in HCA Vanadzor. In response to the question raised by reporters, whether throwing eggs and rocks is not a violation of public order, the Prosecutor Shahbazyan stated: “It is a form of expressing disapproval which will be evaluated during the preparation of case materials.”
4. In response to a statement by a number of human rights organizations, which condemned the attack against HCA Vanadzor, on April 18, 2012, the RA Police released a statement; “…that the practice of alleged rights on one’s own, is not protected by the freedom of assembly, because freedom of assembly excludes forced realization of presented demands by the participants of the assembly. Such actions may cause financial liability. Moreover, it is not permissible to advocate for one’s viewpoint by committing forceful actions against other persons or their property.”
5. On April 18, 2012, the Head of the Lori Region Investigation Division of the RA Police General Investigation Department sent a note to the representative of the Organization, inviting him to provide explanations, as well as requesting him “to providecopies of the Azerbaijani movies intended to be screened on April 16, 2012 as well as the documents for their screening for examination.” In response, the representative of the Organization informed them that they were unable to provide the movies, because the Organization did not have them in their possession, and that the inquest body did not have the right to invite the representative for clarifications.
6. On April 18, 2012, the Lori Region Prosecutor General sent a note to the Chairman of the Organization and the Head of the Lori Region Investigation Division, to attach the reports of April 16, 2012 written by the Organization, to the case materials investigate the proceedings, and then inform A. Sakunts about the results.
7. On April 18, 2012, the Mayor of Vanadzor responded to an inquiry by the Chairman of the Organization. According to the response, “On April 16, 2012, at 9:00 a.m., Major R. P. Madaryan, the President of the Vanadzor Regional Division of the RA Yerkrapah Voluntary Union, applied to me and informed about an “urgent” assembly at Hayk Square, Vanadzor and a procession from Hayk Square to the office of HCA Vanadzor, which would be organized on that same day at 10:00 a.m. and would last for up to 6 hours.”
8. On April 20, 2012, the official website of the RA Prosecutor General published an explanation, that the Lori Region Prosecutor’s opinion was distorted and presented as incomplete by some of the media which became subject to various interpretations. However the explanation posted on the website of the Prosecutor General exactly restated the response presented earlier by the media.
9. In response to an inquiry from the representative of HCA Vanadzor, on April 26, 2012, the Mayor of Vanadzor presented the documents received by the municipality, to inform them about the 6-hour “urgent” assembly at Hayk Square, Vanadzor and the procession from Hayk Square to the office of HCA Vanadzor organized on April 16, 2012, by Madaryan, the President of the Vanadzor Regional Division of the RA Yerkrapah Voluntary Union. We should note that the number of participants of the so called urgent assembly exceeded 100 (200-400 according to different assessments).
10. On April 27, 2012, a note signed by N. Osyan, SIC Senior Investigator of the Lori Region Investigation Division of the RA Police General Investigation Department, informed about the decision to reject the preparation of a criminal case. The note says: “Considering the fact that there was no intention of brutal violation of public order or expressed disrespect towards the public by the participants of the procession. The actions of the organizers and participants were conditioned by their desire to protect their national dignity, and that is precisely why the peaceful procession was organized. Artus Sakunts’ refusal to refrain from showing the abovementioned movies was the reason why the participants of the assembly expressed their disapproval in various ways, therefore there is no corpus delicti in the actions of any individual.”
11. On April 16, 2012, Chairman of HCA Vanadzorsubmitted a note to Anubakh Hambaryan, Head of the RA Lori Region Police Department: “I am informing you that on April 16, 2012, at approximately 10:30-11:00, there was a case of violence against the staff members of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor, which was accompanied with the damaging a person’s health and willful destruction of the organization’s property. There were several police officers at the scene, who did not take any actions to ensure public safety. Considering the aforementioned and based on your authority, I am applying to you to start an internal investigation regarding the police officers present at the scene.”
12. In response, on Aril 28, 2012, Anubakh Hambaryan, Head of the RA Lori Region Police Department, informed that based on the note submitted to the Head of the RA Lori Region Police Department, “there was an internal investigation conducted and some officers of the Lori Region Police Department were subjected to disciplinary punishment for not providing adequate conditions for effective implementation of public safety activities during the assembly at the office of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor.”
13. On April 30, 2012, The RA Police released a statement, according to which, the investigation “revealed that a resident of Vanadzor, Margarita Khachatryan, willfully committed unlawful action that caused minor damage to the property of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor.
The investigation found that there were no other actions committed by the participants of the gathering or other individuals, which constituted a criminal or administrative violation..Based on the administrative proceedings, Margarita Khachatryan was subjected to a fine of 40,000 AMD.…and that there were no sufficient pre-conditions for the police to act effectively at the gathering venue. TheDeputy Chief of Service of the Vanadzor Police Department, Mikayel Chobanyan and the Chief of Service of the Lori Region Police Department, Alexander Arzumanyan, were subjected to disciplinary punishment by the Chief of the Lori Region Police Department of the RA Police.”
By presenting the chronology and description of the statements, decisions, interpretations, and actions by the law enforcement bodies and their representatives, we would like to draw their and public attention to the following issues.
1. Was the assembly of April 16, 2012, urgent? According to Article 26 of the RA Law on Freedom of Assembly, “Anurgent assembly is one that is conducted with the aim of reacting to an event within a short period of time, provided that such aim cannot be attained by following the timeline for presenting a notification.”According to Point 2 of Article 27 of the same law, “The organizer of an urgent assembly shall inform the Authorized Body and the Police of making a decision to conduct an assembly before taking steps towards organizing the assembly.” We find that the documents provided to the Organization show that the organizer of the urgent assembly did not inform the police; instead, the Mayor of Vanadzor informed the Police.
2. It should be noted that the screening of the movies was scheduled for April 17, 2012 and not for April 16, 2012, i.e. the event was to take place a day later and it is not clear what event the “urgent” assembly was reacting to on April 16, 2012.
3. How pressing was this “urgent” assembly? We should note that on April 14, 2012, 36 organizations and political parties signed a statement ending in the following words: “Dear compatriots, ambitious residents of Lori, it is imperative to say our word of rejection and condemnation regarding this treacherous step of some lost people, by voicing our unanimous and resolute “NO”. We should inform the organizers and their supporters that they will be solely responsible for the consequences.” We ask, what do the authors of the statement, including not only representatives from non-governmental organizations, but also power structures, government structures, acting as heads of non-governmental organizations, mean by “that they will be solely responsible for the consequences”? To what extent was the preparedness of this urgent assembly examined by the law enforcement bodies, and who was the direct organizer collecting signatures for the “Call to the Residents of Lori”?
4. According to Part 1 of Article 28 of the Law on Freedom of Assembly, “Before the assembly begins, the assembly leader shall communicate his name and surname, or, if the assembly is organized by a legal entity, then also the full name of the legal entity, the assembly purpose, and the approximate time of the assembly end. If the assembly will include a procession, then the procession route and timetable shall be publicized.”We find that the inquest body is silent whether this requirement was followed.
5. According to Sub-point 6 of Point 1 of Article 30 of the Law on Freedom of Assembly, the participants of the assembly have a responsibility “Not to obstruct free access to buildings, structures, and other premises located at the assembly venue or adjacent to it.” We ask, did the law enforcement bodies investigate whether this requirement was fulfilled by the participants of the assembly? The inquest body is again silent.
6. According to Point 3 of Part 1 of Article 31 of the Law on Freedom of Assembly, the assembly leader “Shall be obliged to take the necessary measures during the assembly for ensuring the natural course of the assembly, namely by means of appeals to prevent violent actions by the assembly participants, to refrain from violence, and to separate participants whom are ready to use force.” And according to Sub-point 4, “Shall have the right to request Police officers forcibly to remove from the assembly venue any citizens that disturb the peaceful and natural course of the assembly.”We find that the inquest body did not question whether the requirement was followed.
7. Article 32 of the Law on Freedom of Assembly prescribes the obligations of the police, in particular; to remove from the assembly venue, persons that disturb the natural course of the assembly.” We find that the inquest body did not address the fulfillment of police obligations either.
8. Points 2 and 3 of Article 33 of the Law on Freedom of Assembly define the police powers to terminate an assembly, which was not addressed by the inquest body. The fact that the police did not show disapproval but directly supported the organizers of the urgent assembly which is proved by a video footage, in which the head of the Information and public Relations Department of the Lori Regional Administration thanks the police for their support. We find this fact was not investigated by the inquest body.
9. The video footage provided by HCA Vanadzor to the law enforcement bodies clearly shows that the rock is thrown at the office by a young man, and the law enforcement bodies did not take any steps to identify him. We believe that applying a financial punishment against Margarita Khachatryan is not justified and Ms. Khachatryan is being used as a scapegoat, while the real perpetrator is being protected. This same young man actively obstructs the peaceful demonstration of young peoplefrom Peace Dialogue NGO, holding a poster “Save Teghut”, during a campaign meeting with the first candidate for Parliament from the RPA on April 27, 2012.
10. In the decision of the investigator, the organizers and participants of the assembly inform that the procession was organization exclusively to prohibit the screening of Azerbaijani movies and it was not important, where they would be screened. Thus they directly state that their goal was not expressing their disapproval but prohibiting the screening, while the screening was not scheduled for April 16, 2012, the day of the assembly. We find that the investigator did not pay attention to this issue either.
11. In his decision, the investigator states that theChairman of the Organization announced: “that the Azeri movies would not be screened in the premises of HCA Vanadzor and only after that the participants of the procession left the territory of the office.” Thus he directly indicates that the territory was occupied and the non-governmental organization was unable to perform its normal activities. We find that these questions have also been neglected by the investigator.
12. In his decision, the investigator states: “Artus Sakunts’ refusal to refrain from showing the abovementioned movies was the reason why the participants of the assembly expressed their disapproval in various ways, therefore there is no corpus delicti in the actions of any individual.”We find that the investigator openly falsifies the reality, because the organizers of the assembly themselves knew that Artur Sakunts did not show the movies, but simply provided a venue to the non-governmental organization which organized the screening. The throwing of eggs and rocks is again assessed as a way of expressing disapproval. Thus the RA Law Enforcement Bodies openly take under protection the individuals who committed unlawful actions against the non-governmental organization and its members, and therefore they also must take responsibility for the human rights organizations not being protected in Armenia.
For your information: Article 258 of the RA Criminal Code: Hooliganism
1. Hooliganism is brutal violation of public order which is manifested in express disrespect, is punished with a fine in the amount of 50 minimal salaries ordetainment for the term of up to 1 month.
2. The same act accompanied with violence in relation to citizens or a threat to use it, as well as, destruction or damage of somebody’s property, is punished with a fine in the amount of 100 to300 minimal salaries,with detainment for the term of 1-3 months, or with imprisonment for the term of up to 2 years.
3. The action envisaged in part 2 of this Article, committed:
1) by a group of persons or organized group;
5) combined with exceptional cynicism,
is punished with a fine in the amount of 200 to 500 minimal salaries or with imprisonment for a term of up to 5 years.
13. The video footage provided by the Oragnization to the law enforcement bodies clearly shows a large number of young people, who are students of various educational institutions. The inquest body has not identified the students or university or other educational institution they are from, , how they appeared near the premises of HCA Vanadzor, or who permitted or convinced them to participate in these activities.
14. The inquest body did not consider on what groundsemployees of the Lori Regional Administration, who should be performing their duties, and for which they are being paid from the taxpayers’ money, were participating in the “urgent” assembly during working hours and who had given permission to them.
The representative of HCA Vanadzor has appealed the decision of the investigator with the Lori Region Prosecutor.