Armenian police used excessive force against peaceful protesters on July 29, 2016 and assaulted journalists reporting on the demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said.
Police used stun grenades, which wounded dozens of demonstrators and some journalists, some severely. The police also beat journalists and protesters and detained dozens of people.
Armenian authorities have opened an investigation into police actions on July 29.
“Armenia’s investigation of the police assaults on demonstrators on July 29 should be swift and thorough,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “While the police have an obligation to maintain public order, they do not have carte blanche to use violence against people gathered to peacefully express their views.”
Protests have been ongoing in Armenia since July 17, when armed men from a radical opposition group seized a police station in Yerevan’s Erebuni district, killing one policeman and taking several hostages, demanding political concessions from the government. Before the gunmen surrendered on July 31, public support for them grew into a wide protest movement in Yerevan.
While police and protesters have scuffled several times, on the night of July 29 police used excessive and disproportionate force to disperse a peaceful crowd. Other protests took place without incident or police interference.
Human Rights Watch spoke with victims and witnesses of the violence. Several said that at about 11 p.m., police rapidly fired numerous rocket-projected stun grenades and threw hand-held stun grenades into the peaceful crowds near the police station in the Erebuni district.
Journalists and protesters said that although police told protest leaders that the crowd had to disperse, the police did not make any meaningful effort to warn the crowds to disperse or about their plans to use force. Police did not use other means of crowd control before resorting to stun grenades.
Interviewees told Human Rights Watch that the crowd was not attempting to cross the cordon when police started launching the stun grenades. Video footage of the events reviewed by Human Rights Watch supports the witness accounts.
While police could legitimately seek to prevent protesters from getting too close to the police station, they were still bound to uphold human rights and respect standards on the use of force, Human Rights Watch said.
“Police should not interfere with the legitimate work of journalists, let alone attack and punish them for doing their jobs,” Gogia said.
Also read: President Sargsyan apologizes to journalists over July 29 violence