The Authorities Are Suppressing Free Speech

16:23, 5 November, 2007

On October 23rd in the center of the capital a scuffle broke out between a group of peaceful marchers and the police. The group of about fifty people was heading down Mashtots Avenue in the direction of the “Yeritasardakan” Metro Station close to Abovyan Street.

Along the way they were handing out leaflets and using handheld loudspeakers advertising the public rally scheduled to be held on October 26th. The mayor’s office had been notified of the march and this information was duly registered. This despite the fact that regarding “ Conducting meetings, public rallies, marches, demonstrations“, Article 10 of the Republic of Armenia (ROA) Legal Code states that, “ Citizens have the right to conduct such events without prior notification if the number of participants does not exceed 100 and the event in question does not disturb the public peace nor violate any traffic laws”. In addition, Article 7 of the Legal Code states that, “ Individuals participating in public events can either possess or carry banners and other display materials as well as utilize loudspeakers.”

As the group reached the “Yeritasardakan” Station, an individual in civilian dress approached them and stated that he was a Deputy Chief from the Police Department’s Central Division. This individual demanded that the group halt the march and stop using the loudspeakers. The marchers after citing the finer points of the law to the uninformed youthful policeman continued on their way. It was at the intersection of Koryun and Abovyan streets that Deputy Chief Alexander Afyan, attached to the office of Nerses Nazaryan, the Chief of the Police Central Division, ‘collided’ with the marchers and demanded that they hand over the loudspeaker. Neither he nor the other policemen present were able to justify that demand based on the law. One of the police went so far as to state that, “ I am the law.” A heated conversation soon began. At this point the ‘Red Berets’ of the Patrol Division (Interior Troops) entered the fray by attacking the marchers. They proceeded to beat the marchers and fired tear gas.

Gohar Veziryan, a journalist with the “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper who was on the scene to cover the event, didn’t escape being among those injured. She relates that when she attempted to photograph the beating of Manuk Sukiasyan of the “Impeachment” bloc and calm down the enraged policemen, she suddenly received two heavy blows to her left ear. Spinning around, she saw that her attacker was a man in plainclothes. He paid no attention when she identified herself as a journalist; he continued to hit and push her around. The Red Berets also attacked the retreating woman and one sprayed tear gas in her face. They tried to hustle her into a waiting police wagon but Shogher Matevosyan, the Editor-in-Chief of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” came to her rescue. The Red Berets then pushed Veziryan aside, who twisted her ankle as she fell backwards. 

Despite the fact that the doctors advised her to stay off her feet for a few days, Veziryan went back to work after two days. She experienced dizzy spells and stomach aches at work, and eventually fainted. At the hospital it was discovered that she had suffered a brain concussion.

Veziryan recognized one of the policemen that beat her - Lieutenant-Colonel Arayik Petrosyan, Company Commander of the Patrol Division. Defying all comprehension, during the subsequent criminal hearings, Gohar Veziryan was presented as a witness to the melee and not as an injured party.

The police took eleven of the marchers into custody for causing the disturbance: Petros Makeyan, President of the Democratic Fatherland Party, and his sons Tigran and Karen; their two relatives Lyova and Tigran; “Alternative Initiative” member Davit Matevosyan and his son Tevos; Conservative Party President Mikayel Hayrapetyan; “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” Editor-in-Chief, Shogher Matevosyan; ” Republic Party'' member Tigran Ter-Markaryan and “Haykakan Zhamanak” Editor-in-Chief, Nigol Pashinyan. All were held at the Police Central Division for eight hours where they were subjected to personal searches but no registration of the proceedings was made nor were the detainees allowed to make a telephone call as is their right by law. In the beginning the detainees weren’t even permitted to contact their lawyers. Lastly, the police failed to inform the detainees as to the specific charges for their being held in custody within the three- hour limit as delineated by the law.

That same night a large crowd had gathered directly opposite the Police Central Headquarters. In the crowd were a number of political figures and parliamentary delegates. Noteworthy is the visit made by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first President of the ROA, to see the activists. It was due to the efforts of the first President that the detainees were set free several hours after midnight. 

On October 24th the ROA Police Department issued the following statement:

“On October 23rd at approximately 7:00 PM a group of marchers impeded traffic along Abovyan and Goriun Streets. Not responding favorably to the comments of the police inviting them to restore a sense of order, the marchers proceeded to pointlessly argue with the police, to grossly endanger the public order and to openly behave in a disrespectful manner towards passersby, drivers and the police. For some twenty minutes the marchers used foul language and cursed the members of the Police Department and also unleashed a tirade of abusive remarks directed at government bodies. Also, they hindered the work of the police by their actions, displayed resistance and resorted to force against the police. Those who actively participated in this hooliganism and resisted the actions of the police include Nigol Pashinyan, Petros Makeyan, Tigran and Karen Makeyan, and Shogher Matevosyan, whose actions resulted in four police employees sustaining physical injury that required medical attention. Nigol Pashinyan and Petros Makeyan were interrogated as suspects while Tigran and Karen Makeyan, along with Shogher Matevosyan, refused to provide testimony. As a precautionary pre-trial measure they have signed affidavits that they will not take flight. Criminal proceedings have been initiated on the basis of Points 1 and 2 of the 3rd Section of Article 258 (Hooliganism) of the ROA Criminal Code and Article 316 (The use of force against a government representative). Forensic examinations have been scheduled. Circumstances regarding the event in question are being clarified. The preliminary investigation is continuing apace.”

On October 24th, in the National Assembly, Deputy Police Chief General-Lieutenant Ararat Mahtesyan, made a series of remarks in tune with the above statement. In particular he declared that, “ Shogher Matevosyan was inebriated at the time. Can you imagine such a thing? A drunken woman? She behaved quite indecently and cursed the men.” Matevosyan considers these comments to be slanderous. As she sees it the real reason the authorities have taken steps against her and the “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” is because those in power feel threatened by them and view them as a real danger. The preliminary investigation found a 0.11% alcohol level in the fluids imbibed by Matevosyan, which according to the journalist is a component ingredient in any medical infusion and is not nearly enough to constitute an infraction of the law regarding the operation of a vehicle.

Moreover, Matevosyan is preparing to sue Deputy Police Chief Mahtesyan and Police Chief Nerses Nazaryan on the grounds of slander.

On October 29th the above-mentioned five suspects and a number of witnesses were interrogated. Gohar Veziryan and Davit Matevosyan were questioned while Shogher Matevosyan refused to offer evidence along with Petros Makeyan’s sons Karen and Tigran. Karen sustained injuries from being sprayed with tear gas while Tigran sustained a head concussion during the melee. Petros Makeyan challenged the testimony given by Major Grigoryan and a magazine vendor named Samvel who gave evidence on behalf of the police, in an attempt, Mr. Makeyan believes, to fabricate a case against them. 

On October 30th accusations of guilt were handed down to Pashinyan, Shogher Matevosyan and the three Makeyans. All were charged with violating the First Section of Article 316 of the ROA Criminal Code. All the accused pleaded non guilty.

Of interest is the observation made by the “Aravot” newspaper that according to Article 88 of the ROA Criminal Code the Police Department, by instituting criminal proceedings, has grossly violated the law as the police itself is an interested party in the case. Thus, the Police Department winds up being both the aggrieved party as well as the one bringing criminal charges. The newspaper also mentions the fact that the Chief of the Patrol Division on October 23rd was none other that Colonel Robert Melkonyan who, during the era of Vano Siradeghyan, was a regular policeman known by the nickname ‘Bazaz’. He was dismissed from the police on charges of attempting to bribe his way back to his former position. Alexander Afyan, on the other hand, goes by the name of “The Baker” since at one time he owned a bread oven in Kotayk and was a middleman in the wheat trade.

Shogher Matevosyan believes that while the police would like to avoid a court trial, the activists on the other hand will spare no effort to see that the case gets its day in court.

Content from the newspapers Haykakan Zhamanak, Aravot and Azg was used in the preparation of this article