The deadly events of 1 March 2008 were revisited in two of the three cases
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered three verdicts against Armenia on claims filed by the citizens of the country. Two of the cases, ‘Mushegh Saghatelyan v. Armenia’ and ‘Vardges Gaspari v. Armenia’ concern the violent dispersal of a demonstration that took place on 1 March 2008.
The demonstration followed the presidential elections on 18 February 2008. Supporters of the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, demanded an investigation into the election results, claiming Levon Ter-Petrosyan won the election.
According to the Central Electoral Commission, President Serzh Sargsyan was elected. However, Robert Kocharyan was still president of the country at the time. Kocharyan declared a state of emergency in which military-grade weapons were used to disperse the crowds. Eight civilians and two police officers were killed in the process.
Mushegh Saghatelyan stated in his lawsuit that:
• The decision to disperse the demonstration on 1 March 2008 was politically motivated;
• The police officers mistreated him;
• His arrest was unlawful;
• The criminal case against him had no legal basis.
Mushegh Saghatelyan is a former head of a police detention centre. He actively participated in protests that took place in February and March 2008 in Yerevan. Saghatelyan was a close confidant of Levon Ter-Petrosyan. After the 1 March events, he was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting two policemen and the illegal possession of bladed weapons. He was released before serving his full sentence in 2010.
The ECHR ruled on this case that:
• The criminal investigation was illegal;
• The national court ruled only on the basis of police testimony;
• The arrest of Mushegh Saghatelyan was illegal.
The court agreed with the plaintiff that he was injured as a result of ill-treatment, not due to a clash between the protesters and the police.
The ECHR ruled the the Armenian government must pay Saghatelyan 15,600 euros as moral compensation and reimburse legal costs in the amount of 5,000 euros.
The second case, ‘Gaspari v. Armenia’, concerned the activist Vardges Gaspari and his complaint about the conditions of and reasons for his arrest and imprisonment in 2008.
Gaspari was found guilty on charges of assaulting a policeman and sentenced to one year in prison. He was released in February 2009.
The ECHR agreed that the conditions of Gaspari’s arrest violated his rights.
The court ruled that the Armenian government has to pay Gaspari 4,000 euros for non-material damage.
Lawyer Vahe Grigoryan, who represented all three plaintiffs, believes that these verdicts can set a precedent. Consequently, there could be more appeals concerning the 1 March case in the ECHR against Armenia.
“The investigation into one of the most tragic events in the history of Armenia is just beginning. We must be ready to taste the bitterness of the truth in this matter, and not move forward on the principle of turning the page,” Grigoryan stated.
The third case, ‘Ashot Ghulyan v. Armenia’, concerned the death of Levon Gulyan, the plaintiff’s son who was found dead on 12 May 2007 in the courtyard of a Yerevan police station. The Armenian media reported at the time that Gulyan had fallen from a second floor window.
Levon Gulyan was interrogated as a witness in a murder that took place nearby his restaurant. The father’s appeal to ECHR included ill-treatment in the hands of the police as well as his son’s death at the station. The suit also claimed that the investigating authorities did not investigate the case thoroughly. The death was investigated by the Special Investigative Service.
The court sided with the plaintiff that the investigation was carried out with numerous violations and was not ‘effective’.
The ECHR ruled that the Armenian government pay Gulyan 50,000 euros for moral damage as well as 2,000 euros for legal fees.