|09YEREVAN424||2009-06-18 05:33:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Yerevan|
VZCZCXRO6915 RR RUEHSL DE RUEHYE #0424/01 1690533 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 180533Z JUN 09 FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9201 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000424
1. (C) Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Dr. Philip Gordon met with four of Armenia's civil society
leaders to learn their views on the current state of human
rights and democratization in Armenia. The leaders offered a
gloomy assessment, recounting their experiences with
Yerevan's troubled May 31 municipal election and with
restrictions on freedom of the press and expression. They
also criticized the authorities for not taking human rights
seriously, and expressed concern that the international
community, including the U.S., was subordinating democracy
and human rights to geopolitical considerations. END SUMMARY.
YEREVAN'S TROUBLED MUNICIPAL ELECTION
2. (C) On June 9 EUR A/S Philip Gordon met with Mesrop
Movsisan, Director of independent A1Plus online news agency;
Amalia Kostanian, Director of Transparency International (TI)
in Armenia; Artur Sakunts, Chairman of the Helsinki Citizens
Assembly of Vanadzor; and Tigran Khzmalian, Film Director and
Member of the Committee on Defense of Political Prisoners in
Armenia. The meeting focused on the present state of human
rights and democratization in Armenia.
3. (C) A/S Gordon kicked off the discussion with an open
question about Yerevan's recent municipal elections.
Kostanian reported that she had supervised TI's 50-strong
local electoral observation mission and was "shocked" at what
she and her observers saw. She said she had expected fraud
and intimidation, but had not anticipated the high degree of
abuse and harassment of observers and political party
proxies. Moreover, she characterized the Prosecutor
General's attempts to punish those responsible for the
electoral malfeasance as "a sham and a continuation of the
4. (C) Kostanian also recounted how several observers were
forced without warrants to testify about electoral abuse and
were subsequently assaulted by law enforcement officers.
When one observer objected to the legality of the summons
presented to him, officials from the Special Investigative
Unit (a body subordinated to the Prosecutor General of
Armenia) allegedly dragged him from home and beat him.
Kostanian further reported that this individual has now been
sentenced to two months' detention for resisting arrest.
WHAT MEDIA FREEDOM?
5. (C) Movsisian told A/S Gordon about the plight of A1Plus,
which was banned from operating on television in 2002 and
continues to exist only on the internet as an independent
online news service. He explained that the GOAM freely flout
calls of the international community to allow his news
organization to operate, even going so far as to contravene
the June 2008 decision of the European Court of Human Rights
that awarded A1Plus damages in compensation for the way
Armenia's broadcast regulatory authority denied its 2002
application to renew its broadcast license. Movsisian
characterized the attitude of those in power as contrary to
the ideals of free speech and media. "The authorities believe
you are either with us or you are our enemy," he said, "and
this applies to the opposition, journalists, artists and the
ARMENIA'S AUTHORITIES ARE CRIMINAL
6. (C) All four civil society leaders described the GOAM as
"criminal." Khzmalian characterized the recent Yerevan
elections as the "consolidation of the coup d'etat," which he
claimed began with the assassination of the "criminals'
opponents" in the October 1999 parliament assassinations, and
continued with the violent crackdown on oppositionists
following Armenia's disputed presidential election in 2008.
Movisisan characterized the actions of police going after
whistleblowers during the election as the regime's attempts
to blot out "free and independent thought."
7. (C) In labeling the state "captured," Kostanian noted the
intimate relationship between state law enforcement
structures such as the police and the SIU, and what she
YEREVAN 00000424 002.3 OF 002
termed "criminal elements" attached to various oligarchs,
such as their bodyguards and thug squads. She said that both
elements were quite active during the election to ensure a
predetermined result. Sakunts argued that the GOAM has a
facade that it shows to the international community which
masks a ruthless regime that operates entirely by "mafia
rules." He said people were helpless to get the authorities
to abide by the Constitution because the courts "operate at
the direction of the executive." All agreed that the reason
they personally were not in jail was because the authorities
are weak and require a cadre of critics to speak to Western
diplomats and media, so that the regime appears somewhat
tolerant of dissent.
WHAT IS THE USG TO DO?
8. (C) When A/S Gordon elicited the group's views on how the
USG, in particular the MCC, should react to the current
situation, the leaders expressed concern that the
international community seemed to be forgetting about human
rights and democracy in Armenia, because of the priority it
places on Turkey-Armenia negotiations and the Nagorno
Karabakh process. They urged that the U.S. remain engaged
with civil society and continue to press the GOAM on the
importance of democracy and human rights. They agreed that
the MCC should terminate the roads project, as this would be
"the only message the authorities would understand." Sakunts
argued that the money should somehow be diverted to the
people in need, circumventing the government structures.
Khzmalian pointed out that the idea that MCC's actions should
be sensitive to movement on Turkish-Armenian rapprochement or
on a potential resolution to the NK conflict is a canard.
"The only ones who would benefit from an open Turkish border
would be the oligarch criminals and their counterparts on the
other side," he claimed.
9. (U) EUR A/S Gordon has (not) approved this cable.