WASHINGTON, DC — The most significant human rights problems in Armenia were limitations on citizens’ right to change their government, freedom of speech and press, and the independence of the judiciary, U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
In its annual reports on human rights practices around the world presented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the department also noted the release in May-June 2011 of the last Armenian opposition members remaining in prison on controversial charges stemming from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
“The government released the remaining six opposition members detained in connection with the 2008 clashes between security forces and protesters disputing the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Since April 28 the government began permitting demonstrations and opposition rallies in previously restricted areas of the capital city, and all were held without incident, although demonstrators from outside of Yerevan at times were impeded in their attempts to travel to rallies.
“The most significant human rights problems [in 2011] were limitations on citizens’ right to change their government, freedom of speech and press, and the independence of the judiciary,” reads the extensive report on Armenia.
“Courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, and judges operated in a judicial culture that expected courts to find the accused guilty in almost every case,” it says, adding that only about 2 percent of individuals charged with various crimes were acquitted by Armenian courts last year. The acquittal rate stood at 0.9 percent in 2010.
The lack of judicial independence has long been linked with a widespread torture of detainees reported by local and international human rights groups.
“While the law prohibits such practices, members of the security forces continued to employ them regularly,” says the U.S. report. “Witnesses reported that police beat citizens during arrest and interrogation.”
According to the State Department, Armenian law-enforcement bodies investigated last year 35 complaints of police brutality and in about half of those cases police officers involved were subjected to disciplinary action. None of them was apparently prosecuted or fired.
“Authorities continued to arrest and detain criminal suspects without reasonable suspicion and to detain individuals arbitrarily due to their opposition political affiliations or political activities,” says the report.
The State Department also highlighted the authorities’ continuing strong influence on the news coverage of Armenian TV and radio stations. “Most stations were owned by politicians in the ruling party or politically connected businessmen and presented one-sided views of events,” it said.
Its report also points to an upsurge in libel lawsuits filed against media outlets over the course of 2011. “The government decriminalized libel and defamation but established high new civil fines that encouraged journalists and media outlets to practice self-censorship,” it says.