Case No.: 36469/08
Judgment date: 25 April 2019
The applicant, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, is an Armenian national who was the President of Armenia between 1991 and 1998. He was the main opposition candidate in the 19 February 2008 Presidential election, standing against then Prime Minister Mr Sargsyan, from the ruling party and a close ally of the outgoing President Mr Kocharyan. Immediately after the preliminary results of the election were announced, the applicant called on his supporters to gather at Yerevan’s Freedom Square to protest against alleged electoral irregularities, stating that the election had not been free and fair. From 20 February 2008 onwards, mass protests were held by the applicant’s supporters in Freedom Square, in which the applicant participated and gave speeches. The applicant stayed overnight in the Square.
On 1 March 2008 at around 6 a.m. the police arrived at Freedom Square, encircled the protesters and, without warning, attacked and beat them, and destroyed their camp. Many protesters fled. The applicant alleged that he was arrested by the police and taken to his house, where, with the exception of attending one hearing of the Constitutional Court, he was effectively detained by special forces until 20 March 2008, when the state of emergency imposed on 1 March 2008 was lifted. The Government argued that the police attended Freedom Square to verify information that weapons were to be distributed among the protesters to incite provocative actions and mass disorder. It denied that the applicant had been detained, arguing that he voluntarily agreed to be escorted to his house, was free to leave his home at any time and, with the exception of the Court hearing, did not express any wish to do so.
The Court found the applicant’s complaints under Art. 5(1) and Art. 2 of Protocol 4 to be unsubstantiated and therefore declared them to be manifestly ill-founded.
The applicant complained of a violation of his right to freedom of peaceful assembly (Art. 11 ECHR) as a result of the unlawful and disproportionate dispersal of the Freedom Square rally by the police, for which he had no effective domestic remedy (Art. 13 ECHR).
The Court reiterated its findings in Mushegh Saghatelyan v. Armenia (No. 23086/08, 20.9.18) that the dispersal of the Freedom Square protests had interfered with the participants’ right to freedom of assembly, was not justified and took place under somewhat dubious circumstances, apparently without warnings to disperse and with unjustified and excessive use of force, and that it was a disproportionate measure going beyond what it was reasonable to expect from the authorities when curtailing freedom of assembly. The Court held that there was no reason to depart from its findings in the applicant’s case, and found a breach of Art. 11.
Finding that the applicant did not have an effective remedy for his Art. 11 complaint, the Court held that the Government failed to provide any examples of the application of the administrative remedy which it relied on to police actions to disperse an assembly. Therefore, it failed to demonstrate the existence of an effective domestic remedy for the applicant’s freedom of assembly complaints, in breach of Art. 13 ECHR.
This is the third ECtHR judgment specifically concerning the events of 1 March 2008, which are of great public and political significance in Armenia. Many more such cases, including those relating to responsibility for and failure to investigate the deaths of nine individuals (Farmanyan and others v Armenia, no. 15998/11), are pending judgment.