YEREVAN—US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern met with US citizen Narine Esmaeli, whose allegation of election fraud are now investigation by Armenian authorities.
A non-governmental international observer, Esmaeili was stationed in polling station 17-5 in the town of Artashat during the Armenian Presidential election. When she protested alleged election violations, she was physically assaulted and threatened by the polling station officials. Currently, Armenia’s chief investigation officer has opened a case against her.
Esmaeli’s current legal case was the focal point of the meeting with Heffern.
The ambassador pledged to continue to monitor her case very closely, as well as other post-election developments. Heffern indicated that the welfare of United States citizens abroad remains the highest priority for the United States government.
Heffern said the U.S. remains committed to continue working with the government of Armenia and the Armenian people to help strengthen democratic processes that will guarantee the freedom of all individuals to express their views and opinions, without fear of harassment or persecution.
Esmaeli reported that she had witnessed a group of 25 to 30 men walking into the polling station and surrounding the ballot box. The police officer guarding the station had ignored her request not to allow more than 15 people to enter the polling station as it was in violation of voting rules. When she tried to protest, one of the men from the group pushed her against the wall and held her up with her hand pressed against each other, while polling station official cut open the ballot box seal to allow one of the men from the group to pour a bag full of ballots into the box. The local police officers, who arrived at the scene later responding to her phone call, told Esmaeili to be to be a “good girl” and not talk to the media instead of registering and investigating the allegations.
Esmaeli opted instead to record a YouTube video detailing her eye-witness account.
The investigation into Esmaeli’s allegations began a week after the elections.
“Investigator Hovakimyan, who was sarcastic and aggressive from the second we met, consistently attempted to change my testimony and the order of events in order to place blame and suspicion on me. Instead of transcribing exactly what I recounted, the investigator used leading questions and dismissive responses such as ‘you know that never happened,’” Esmaeli told Amnesty International blogger Simon Maghakyan.
“To prevent the investigator’s distortion of my testimony, my attorney Tigran Yegoryan insisted that we tape the interview on March 1. After a 40-minute argument, the investigator left and returned with Andranik Mirzoyan, chief of the Special Investigative Service. The frightening chief snatched the recorder from my lawyer’s hand and aggressively threw it into the shelf in the interview room. By then, my lawyer and I were surrounded by half a dozen investigators,” added Esmaeli.
“We left physically intact, but I am scared to go back. That’s exactly what they want from me. That’s exactly why I won’t stop my fight for justice,” explained Esmaeli.