“I am very worried about the situation because this clearly shows how much the freedom of association and assembly is violated,” the head of the Women’s Resource Center Lara Aharonyan told LGBTnews referring to the statement on the LGBT Christian Forum made by the Chief of Police Valery Osipyan and the Forum’s cancellation.
According to Aharonyan, the incident can become a precedent, “This can continue the same way. If today this happens with the LGBT community, namely with that forum, tomorrow this may happen with other things, and it is a very dangerous trend in the country where the state has a duty to protect the rights of each citizen irrespective of who they are, which community they represent, what position, what gender orientation or gender identity they have.“
The human rights activist noted that the state and, in particular, the police do not fulfil their obligation to ensure the safety of the event and its participants.
“And so we found ourselves in such a situation due to the propaganda of hatred organized by a small part of the society. I cannot describe what scale it had, but against LGBT community gatherings that were held for a few times, not so many people went out, as much were active in social media but these people have made a lot of hate propaganda: calls for violence, swear words, violations of human dignity and rights … And in such a situation, the state and in particular the police had the responsibility to create such safe conditions for the LGBT Forum to took place because it is a peaceful gathering, an event, and the safety of individuals and participants should be ensured in every way. And thus we heard about an immediate decision by the chief of police that they do not find the conduction of the forum to be convenient.
Who decides whether to find it convenient or not? It’s not the police that should decide, and besides the police chief has talked about safety, but we do not know how they have assessed the risks, and even if they have assessed, they have the obligation to ensure a peaceful conduction of the forum. If 50 people come, gather somewhere and hold a conference, they have to ensure it, there is no other way,” notes Lara Aharonyan.
The human rights activist emphasizes that the danger is that this unacceptable phenomenon can be continuous, “Today, the LGBT Christians’ Forum is forbidden, tomorrow, I don’t know, may the members of the Catholic Church be, and the other day, the gathering of people with orange hair will be banned, they won’t be allowed to gather, because a group of people will subjectively consider that their hair colour is not Armenian, is not traditional; thus we will be in a state of violated rights.”
To the question what steps has or is going to take the human rights activists towards the protection of LGTBI rights, Lara Aharonyan replied, “Hate speech is manifested not only in recent months; it has almost always existed from a long time ago in a public manner. It may have been a bit more intense in recent months but discriminatory statements have always existed.
We have voiced about it in different instances both within the country and in specific reports, of the UN, of others, in various formats, where it is allowed to, where the Republic of Armenia has also assumed obligations.
This week is important as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly is in Armenia, and I think we will use this opportunity. Meetings with civil society will be held with different groups on 7th-13th of June, and as the most important issue, we will raise the manifestation of homophobia, as well as these recent cases connected with LGBT Forum which was not allowed to take place.
It seems to me that it will be included in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in Armenia, which, I think, will have some influence. This, of course, is not enough; we must continue to think of other ways. Soon the elections will be held, aftermath the new government will be formed, and it seems to me we should continue to raise these issues both before the National Assembly, the government, and before various ministries, because there are so many things that they are obliged to do, they have taken the responsibility to inform the public in different ways or to fight against discrimination towards different groups, in different fields in the regard of which we have not seen any concrete steps to be taken so far.
If today the society makes such homophobic, extremist calls, it also comes from the fact that over the years the state has not taken the obligation to inform the public about equality, human rights protection, and the fight against discrimination. I think there are many things to do also thinking about the law against discrimination, on which we have worked and which, however, has not yet been adopted in Armenia,” said Lara Aharonyan.