Human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan, chairman of the Yezidi Center for Human Rights, denies the accusation. In a conversation with Forrights.am, he described ithe accusationt as groundless, noting that the RA National Security Service carried out a one-sided investigation.
Sultanyan is charged with Article 226, Part 2, Clause 1 of the RA Criminal Code, for using the media to incite national, racial or religious enmity between the Armenian and Yezidi peoples. On July 29, the NSS issued a statement stating that a comprehensive and effective investigation into the criminal case had uncovered evidence that he was inciting national animosity between Yezidis, a national minority in Armenia, and Armenians, who have traditionally had friendly relations between each other.
In our conversation, Sultanyan explained that last year, during a private conversation with a journalist of the yezidinews.com website, he raised issues related to the Yezidi community, socio-economic and educational problems of the Yezidis, which the NSS interpreted as inciting hostility. “That journalist called me for the first time; it was a private conversation and it was not agreed that it should be published. We were speaking openly and I thought he just wanted to get an idea of the socio-economic and educational problems of the Yezidis.”
On the day the conversation was published, Sultanyan asked the journalist to remove it, agreeing to give an interview later. But, before that, the text became available to the NSS. “On September 30, 2020, I was invited to give an explanation, which I did. We did not have any information after that and, being busy during the war, we thought that they just wanted an explanation, and that’s it, but in November we wrote a letter to the NSS and us they informed us that they had initiated a criminal case. We also asked them to say what actions they had taken, we requested the decision to initiate a criminal case, but they refused, stating that I did not have a judicial status.”
According to Sultanyan, this continued until May 20, 2021, when, based on a court decision, he and his colleagues’s apartment, their organization’s office were searched and computers and phones were confiscated. “They were looking for documents on cooperation with foreign agencies, which, of course, they did not find, because there is no such thing, and, on the same day, although I was ready to go, I was detained by the NSS and charged with signature not to leave the country.”
In the official statement, the NSS noted that Sultanyan, through a foreign media service, portrayed Armenia as a state of national discrimination in political, economic, social, cultural and other spheres of life, which Armenians expressed by brutal violatiion and limitation of the rights and freedoms of Yezidis based on nationality, violation of the right of the Yezidis to profess the religion in public or in private or in another form, with gross violations and restrictions of the rights of Yezidis to life, property, their identity and traditions, education and use of language.
Whereas, according to Sultanyan, his words were translated distortedly․ “I said that no matter how much we mention that the protection of the rights of the Yezidis is perfect, in reality it is not so. But they translated that the rights of the Yezidis are not protected I said that there are Armenians in some spheres who discriminate against the Yezidis. They translated that Armenians are discriminated against Yezidis. That is, they tried to present it generalized. Moreover, the NSS involved a person without a translator’s certification as a translator, who is also interested in the case and had an unfriendly attitude towards our organization.”
Sultanyan did not want to comment on the reasons for the criminal prosecution against him, but stressed that human rights organizations are talking about it. It should be noted that today the authoritative international human rights organization “Freedom House” issued a statement calling for an end to the criminal prosecution of a Yezidi human rights activist.
Sultanyan also informed that, during the preliminary investigation, many motions were submitted, including the interrogation of the journalist as a witness, but all the motions were rejected and the case was sent to the supervising prosecutor to confirm the indictment. “I can only say that they hinder our activities aimed at protecting human rights. I do not know, I do not understand what the tendency is,” he said.
In our conversation, Sashik Sultanyan’s lawyer Arayik Zalyan described the criminal case as absurd, noting that it was initiated under an article envisaging punishment for a serious crime, but a serious crime must have consequences, be done intentionally, and his client spoke about the rights of Yezidis and their violation.
“The whole accusation is based on the testimonies of several people who say that the Yezidi community has no problems, everything is normal, while we have submitted mediations with numerous references, in which people raise a public issue, we say, call that person. “Maybe the people you called have no idea about the human rights, that’s why they say so. But they rejected our petitions.”
According to human rights activist Zhanna Aleksanyan, in practice there are cases when the rights of Yezidis are violated, particularly in the army. “There have been cases when their national dignity is degraded, they are ridiculed. And the human rights activist is obliged to raise such cases. Criminal prosecution of a representative of a national minority, especially a human rights activist, will endanger Armenia’s reputation in the international arena,” said Zhanna Alexanyan.
It should be added that the head of the Public Relations Department of the Prosecutor’s Office Arevik Khachatryan, in response to our question, informed that the indictment was confirmed and the case was sent to court for substantive examination. Lilit Shaboyan, Head of the Press and Public Relations Department of the Supreme Judicial Council, informed us that it has not been signed by any judge yet.