Armenia: Arbitrary arrest of several environmental rights defenders

14/08/2020
Urgent Appeal

New information
ARM 001 / 0519 / OBS 045.1
Arbitrary arrest
Armenia
August 14, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Armenia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and subsequent release of several environmental rights defenders, including Mses. Ani Khachatryan, a member of the Armenian Environmental Front civic initiative, Nina Karapetyants, head of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights, Zaruhi Hovhannisyan, coordinator of the Coalition to Stop violence against women and Messrs. Ara Karagyozyan, lawyer and member of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights and Levon Galstyan, member of the Armenian Environmental Front, in Amulsar and Yerevan.

These arrests are related to the blockade that has been held for the past two years by environmental activists against the construction of a gold mine by closed joint-stock company Lydian Armenia in Amulsar, Vayots Dzor region, around 170 km south of Yerevan (see background information).

According to the information received, on August 10, 2020, nine environmental activists, including women’s rights defender Ms. Zaruhi Hovhannisyan, were arrested during a peaceful gathering in front of the Parliament in Yerevan for “not obeying police orders” (Article 182 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia). This administrative offense is punishable by a fine of around 50.000 AMD (approximately 88 Euros). The activists had gathered to express their support to the protests that had taken place in Amulsar since August 4, 20201. They were taken to various police stations of Yerevan and released three hours later.

In the afternoon of August 6, 2020, about a dozen of people, including Ms. Nina Karapetyants and Mr. Ara Karagyozyan, who were participating in a peaceful picket in Yerevan in support of the protests in Amulsar, were arrested by the police, including Ms. Nina Karapetyants and Mr. Ara Karagyozyan2.They were all released after administrative proceedings were conducted at various police stations over accusations of “not obeying police orders”.

On the same day in the evening, another protest by a group of environmental supporters took place in Yerevan. The police detained around 20 environmental activists who were peacefully demonstrating on bicycles, as well as Mr. Levon Galstyan who was filming the arrests. They were released within three hours after administrative proceedings were conducted over accusations of “not obeying police orders”.

On August 5, 2020, Armenian police forces cracked down on the local population and environmental activists opposed to the construction of the gold mine in Amulsar, leading to the arbitrary arrest of many protesters, including Ms. Ani Khachatryan. The activists were placed under administrative arrest and charged with “not obeying police orders”. They were released within three hours.

On August 4, 2020, a massive mobilisation of peaceful protestors began at the blockade point in Amulsar following the removal by the security company contracted by Lydian Armenia of wagons that had been installed by the activists. This mobilisation led to acts of provocation and violence on the side of the private security company and the arrest of several peaceful protesters by the police.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern over the arbitrary arrest of Mses. Ani Khachatryan, Nina Karapetyants, Zaruhi Hovhannisyan and Messrs. Ara Karagyozyan and Levon Galstyan, as well as several other protesters defending their rights and the environment, as it seems to be only aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory is also concerned about the escalation of police violence in Amulsar and urges the Armenian authorities to put an end to police brutality and to guarantee the right to protest.

Background information:

Approximately 400 mines, of which 22 are metal, are exploited in Armenia. All mining sites are close to inhabited areas and water resources, raising numerous issues in terms of health, water and food safety and environment.

In 2007, the mining company Lydian Armenia CJSC, subsidiary of Lydian International, started its operation of exploration and feasibility for a gold mine extraction project in Armenia. In 2014 the company was granted a mining licence and in 2016 it started the construction works for the extraction project in the Amulsar region.

Since 2012, experts and activists have been denouncing the negative impact of mining operations in Amulsar on health and the environment and since 2018 residents blocked the access to the mine and asked the suspension of the project. In response, Lydian Armenia started a vigorous campaign to silence all critics, including human rights defenders.

In November 2018, approximately 3,000 citizens from the Jermuk enlarged community, in which Amulsar is situated, signed a petition to stop the project, and on December 18, 2018, the Council of Jermuk Community took the decision to develop Jermuk Community as an environment friendly economy and prohibit metal mining on its territory. The government commissioned an international audit of Lydian’s environmental impact assessment which concluded that the said assessment was flawed.

On November 16, 2018, Lydian Armenia filed a civil law complaint before the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kotayk against Ani Khachatryan (Court case No. ԿԴ3/1445/02/18) for spreading ‘slandering information’ after she was regularly posting information online concerning the situation of the Amuslar mine project. Lydian Armenia asked Ms. Ani Khachatryan to pay one million Dram (approximately 1,870 Euros) in compensation for undermining its business reputation. On December 6, 2018, the Ministry of Justice ordered Ms. Ani Khachatryan not to disseminate information negatively impacting Lydian Armenia’s reputation and ‘not reflecting the reality’. The trial is ongoing.

Lydian Armenia also filed other civil law complaints against nearly 20 other activists for defamation. In December 2018, it filed a complaint against Ms. Nazeli Vardanyan, who is a lawyer and leader of the Armenian Forest NGO, for criticising the Amulsar project and accusing the company of having hidden relations with some authorities. Ms. Vardanyan was never notified in a due manner of the hearings and the trial was completed without her presence or that of the defence. On June 11, 2020, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Yeveran upheld the lawsuit filed by Lydian Armenia. Ms. Vardanyan has appealed this ruling for blatant abuse of her right to defend herself.

On August 10, 2018, Lydian Armenia filed a defamation complaint before the Yerevan Court of General Jurisdiction against Mr. Levon Galstyan, for criticising its operations in public interviews, on Facebook statuses and on the Armenian Environmental Front’s webpage (Court Case No. ԵԴ/16785/02/18). The trial is ongoing.

In March and April 2019, Lydian Armenia also filed a defamation complaint against Messrs. Shirak Buniatyan (Court case No. ԱՎԴ2/0560/02/19) and Edmon Aghabekyan (Court case No. ԱՎԴ2/0551/02/19) for questioning the legitimacy of operations conducted by Lydian Armenia in a Facebook post and at a public gathering. The company also asked them to pay one million Dram (approximately 1,870 Euros) in compensation for undermining its business reputation. The trial is ongoing.

In addition, since 2018, the same defenders have also been regularly targeted by a smear campaign on social media. Fake Facebook accounts have been publishing approximately 40 video materials discrediting Mr. Levon Galstyan. Offensive sexist posts have been published on Facebook against Msses. Ani Khachatryan and Tehmine Yenokyan, a journalist, describing them as ‘loose women’, ‘made pregnant by activists’ and so on. In April 2019, Levon Galstyan, Tehmine Yenoqyan and Ani Khachatryan applied to different courts to seek remedy for insulting materials published on Facebook against them. On May 3, 2019, a video made up to discredit Ms. Nazeli Vardanyan’s professional skills as a lawyer was circulated through a fake Facebook page named ‘Green and Clean’, which was subsequently closed down by Facebook due to reports by users that the page was offensive and defamatory. Only Tehmine Yenoqyan’s case has been completed with her partially winning the suit as her claim for slander was recognised, but not the amount of compensation. She appealed the verdict.

Furthermore, Ms. Tehmine Yenoqyan filed another complaint to the police on September 6, 2018 in relation to video and photo materials containing abusive comments, circulating on Facebook, and based on the video surveillance of her house in Gndevaz village. The police opened a criminal investigation, which led to the identification of two individuals in relation to the camera surveillance and the fake Facebook accounts, who are connected by working relations with Lydian Armenia. The case was then closed by the Vayots Dzor Regional Prosecutor’s office. Ms. Tehmine Yenoqyan then requested the Ararat and Vayots Dzor District Court of General Jurisdiction to consider the case, but the Court rejected her claim. Ms. Tehmine Yenoqyan appealed this decision before the Appeals Court and the trial is ongoing.

Actions requested:  
 
Please write to the authorities in Armenia, urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mses. Ani Khachatryan, Nina Karapetyants, Zaruhi Hovhannisyan and Messrs. Ara Karagyozyan and Levon Galstyan, as well as all environmental rights defenders in Armenia and protect them against persecution and reprisals;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mses. Ani Khachatryan, Nina Karapetyants, Zaruhi Hovhannisyan and Messrs. Ara Karagyozyan and Levon Galstyan, as well as all human rights defenders and local activists in Armenia and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

iii. Conform in all circumstances to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Armenia.
 
Addresses:
 
• Mr. Armen Sarkissian, President of the Republic of Armenia, Email :press@president.am ;
• Mr. Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister, Email : nikol.pashinyan@gov.am ;
• Mr. Rustam Badasyan, Minister of Justice, Email : info@moj.am ;
• Mr. Vahe Ghazaryan, Chief of Police, Email : press@police.am ;
• Mr. Artur Davtyan, Prosecutor General, Email : info@prosecutor.am.

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Armenia in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Armenia.
 
***

Paris-Geneva, August 14, 2020
 
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
 
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29


[1] See : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNsPLvKzahw&feature=emb_logo
[2] During the protest, participants respected all the required rules regarding the Covid-19 pandemic (like wearing masks and standing far from each other).

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