Investigation Launched in Excessive Use of Force by Police

Police use water canons to disperse protesters in Yerevan. Police use water canons to disperse protesters in Yerevan.

Armenia’s Special Investigative Service launched a criminal case on Friday in connection with police crackdown against protesters and journalists in the early morning hours of June 23 in Yerevan.

The case involves abuse of official duties and position, impeding the legitimate professional activities of journalists, and the intentional destruction or damage of another’s property.

In a statement, the Special Investigative Service press office said that in order to disperse protesters on June 23, security personnel abused their duties and responsibilities on Baghramyan Avenue, Liberty Square and on adjacent streets. During that operation and in subsequent days, special police units utilized excessive force in a number of incidents involving protesters and journalists, causing bodily harm, damaging and destroying equipment, the statement went on to say

When Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission unanimously approved the electricity rate hike on June 17, it sparked nationwide protests. The Russian-managed Electric Network Armenia company had applied to the Commission to increase electricity tariffs due to a $250 million debt it had accrued. Critics of the company said it was due to poor governance and mismanagement.

The day the decision was made public, a group of youth activists from the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun gathered in front of the PSRC’s headquarters to protest the decision. Protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at the building; clashes erupted with the police, and several activists were arrested and released hours later.

On June 19, thousands of Armenian citizens gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to continue protesting the electricity price hike. Among the organizers of the protest was the No to Plunder civic initiative. They announced that if their demands were not met in three days, they would take the protests to Baghramyan Avenue where the Presidential Palace is located.

At 19:00 on Monday June 22, after their requests were not met, thousands of protesters, many of them young people, began marching toward Baghramyan Avenue where they were met with riot police blocking the way to the Presidential Palace. Yerevan’s Deputy Police Chief Valeri Osipyan warned the protesters that their march was illegal and threatened to use force if they did not turn back.

In the early morning hours of June 23, at approximately 5:30am, riot police began moving towards the crowd, using water cannons against the peaceful protesters. Police officers dressed in civilian clothing used batons to drag people away from the scene and arrested hundreds of people. It is estimated that at least 25 people were taken to the hospital as a result of the violence, and 237 people were arrested -an unprecedented number in Yerevan. Journalists were also targeted and many of them had their equipment confiscated or damaged. Other reporters were detained by the police.