Armenia must drop “intimidating” criminal charges against minority rights activist – UN experts
Armenia must stop intimidating human rights defender Sashik Sultanyan, founder of the Yezidi Center for Human Rights, who faces criminal charges for speaking out in support of minority rights, UN human rights experts* said today.
The experts called on Armenia to drop charges against Mr. Sultanyan, who is accused of criminal incitement of hatred and violence in connection with an online interview he gave last year.
“It is not incitement to hatred or violence to raise human rights concerns about the treatment of minorities,” the experts said. “On the contrary, it is protected speech under the right to freedom of expression.
“Nor are minorities such as the Yezidis a threat to national security,” they added. “We call on Armenia to drop these criminal charges, which appear designed simply to intimidate Mr. Sultanyan and others who stand up for minority rights. They may also have a chilling effect on other human rights defenders, especially young people.”
The experts said the human rights defender is being targeted for raising minority issues in Armenia and advocating for the human rights of Yezidis, an ethnic group in the country whose ancestors settled there in the 19th and early 20th century after fleeing religious persecution in the Ottoman Empire.
Mr. Sultanyan is a prominent youth activist and a former minority fellow at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Armenia’s National Security Service began a criminal investigation against him last November, but he was only informed in May this year. At issue is an interview he gave to the website Yezidinews.am about the problems of Yezidis in Armenia. The case has come to court on the 4th of August, and if convicted he could face three to six years in prison.
“People like Mr. Sultanyan and his organisation perform a valuable role by bringing human rights issues to the attention of the Armenian authorities,” they said. “The government should discuss grievances about their participation in society directly with the Yezidis and other minorities, not use spurious criminal charges to try to silence them.” The three experts are in dialogue with the Government of Armenia on this issue.