ARMENIA – Women’s Resource Center faces legal prosecution

The Women’s Resource Centerin Armenia is facing legal prosecution after months of receiving threats fromArmenian nationalists and far-right movements. The organisation issued thefollowing open letter explaining the situation:

“Enough! A call to actionto protect women human rights defenders and stop legal pressures against theWomen’s Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Armenia”

We,women human rights defenders of the Women’s Resource Center and the SexualAssault Crisis Center have been working since 2003 to protect and support womenand girls survivors of gender-based violence including sexual assault, often invery hostile reality. We contributed immensely in raising awareness on women’sreproductive and sexual health and rights, combatting different stereotypes andpractices putting women’s rights, well-being and safety in danger.

Overthe years, we have added our strong voices, leadership and collective actionsto strengthen democratic efforts and movements in society where human rights,rule of law and equality are core values.

Todayafter the velvet revolution, despite the many positive developments, we arefacing a climate of increasing repression, hate speech and violence fromextremist and nationalist groups as well as impunity despite public calls fromthe new state representatives to create a democratic, non-violent society whereall are equal and protected. Some members of these groups started their attackson us back in 2013 and more joined after the revolution. Among them are ferventsupporters of the former oligarchic corrupt regime.

Forthe past year, a smear campaign on social media was launched against ourfounder Lara Aharonian, full of hate speech, threats and call for violence.Although a criminal case was initiated to investigate the events, later on the casewas suspended. We insist that the investigation was ineffective. Earlier duringthe year, a book launch event on prevention of sexual assault against childrenin one of the local bookstores, “Bookinist” was attacked by a group ofnationalists, who took over the space, disrupted the event by throwing eggs onthe organizers from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center and insulting thempublicly. Again, despite a report to the police, no case was initiated and noone was held accountable. Following this event, another public library cancelleda similar event hosted by the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, fearing the samekind of attacks on their premises.

Notonly are most of our attempts to gain justice through legal processes often metwith indifference and impunity, but recently, a legal criminal case wasinitiated against us by order of the Prosecutor General’s office, followingpressures from the same extremist groups. It stated that our sexual educationwebsite, prepared by a group of experts in the field forparents and teenagers, is spreading pornographic materials.

Ourwebsite is presently under investigation. This is another clear attempt to putpressure on us and disturb our work. It is an effort to limit our freedom ofexpression, and our right to association and assembly. Initiation of criminalproceedings is used as a legal tool to limit our activities that are sensitiveand silence us. We feel that this kind of approach and the impunity aroundthese actions by law enforcement bodies are a clear attack on our organisationand a threat to civil society and democracy overall.

Weurge the authorities to live up to their obligations and responsibilities toreinforce protection mechanisms for women human rights defenders like LaraAharonian and the collective of the Women’s Resource Center and the SexualAssault Crisis Center, ensure that all forms of hate, attacks, threats anddiscrimination towards us and our organisations are duly investigated andprosecuted, and that legal tools are not used to silence and limit our work forhuman rights and equality.

Wealso urge the international human rights community and agencies to monitorclosely the situation and remind the government of Armenia of its internationalobligations.

Collectiveand members of the Women’s Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center

SOURCE: Women’s Resource Center, in: AstraBulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; No. 9(188), 2019 ; PHOTO