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Armenia: Investigate alleged police abuses after peaceful protesters blasted with water cannon

The Armenian authorities must urgently launch a thorough investigation into allegations that police used excessive force – including dousing people with water cannon – to disperse a mainly peaceful demonstration against rising electricity prices in the capital Yerevan early this morning, Amnesty International said today.

Yerevan police said they arrested 237 people after a crowd marched away from round-the-clock protests in a central square towards the presidential headquarters after the authorities failed to meet their deadline for annulling a price hike in electricity charges scheduled for 1 August.

Since Friday, thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations in Yerevan and elsewhere, including in the northwestern city of Gyumri, where 12 others were arrested today. Police and an eyewitness confirmed that journalists were also targeted, with police confiscating and damaging video equipment despite the journalists having showed their press credentials.

Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International said:

“For the Armenian authorities to disperse what was up until then a peaceful demonstration is a heavy-handed tactic that must be avoided to protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Video footage showing high-powered jets from water cannon flinging peaceful protesters to the ground is a cause for concern.

“Even if advance warnings were given, jets from water cannon are likely to cause injuries and should never be deployed against peaceful protesters. This equipment is inherently indiscriminate and can affect bystanders.

“It is our understanding that the Armenian authorities are investigating the protesters for ‘hooliganism’, rather than the heavy-handed police response. They must not do this at the expense of an impartial and independent investigation into the police alleged use of excessive force, including water cannon, against demonstrators who may have obstructed traffic but were peaceful. Any security forces found responsible for violations must be disciplined or prosecuted.

“The allegations that police specifically targeted journalists have worrying implications for freedom of expression, and must also be independently investigated.”

Police insisted the march was unlawful and stopped the protesters at a cordon. The protesters apparently rejected a proposal for a smaller group to meet with and deliver their petition to the president. Instead, they sat on a road and blocked traffic. An eyewitness told Amnesty that plainclothes police beat peaceful protesters.

At around 5.30am, police used water cannon against the demonstrators. A video of the incident shows how water cannon were used to break up a mostly peaceful crowd. Some protesters attempted to stand up but the water jets threw them back forcefully into the crowd before police officers, some of them in plain clothes, arrested protesters. In response, some protesters threw water bottles towards the police. There was no evidence of violence until the water cannon were used.

In a statement, police said that stones were thrown and that at least seven protesters and 11 police officials were injured. No serious injuries were reported.

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