(Berlin) – A member of an independent political group critical of the Armenian government was savagely beaten after a protest in Yerevan, the capital, on September 21, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately investigate the beating of Smbat Hakobian, a member of the Alliance of Freedom Fighters, and bring those responsible to account.

“No peaceful protester should have to fear a brutal beating just for expressing their views,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The effectiveness of the investigation into the vicious assault on Smbat Hakobian will be a true test of how seriously the Armenian government takes its commitment to free expression and peaceful assembly.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone an activist who was one of the first people to assist Hakobian after the beating. She said she found Hakobian covered in blood at a construction site not far from the protest site. She said she called for help and began to administer first aid.

An ambulance then took Hakobian to a hospital, where, she said, he was treated in the intensive care unit for serious injuries to his head and face, broken ribs, and damage to his lungs. She said the police arrived only an hour later. The woman asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

She said that Hakobian told her that shortly after the march, a group of five men he did not recognize dragged him into a gated construction site and brutally beat him. Activists said there are numerous video cameras in the area that could potentially aid in identifying the attackers.

Several dozen demonstrators, mainly supporters of a small opposition party and members of the Alliance of Freedom Fighters, had marched to the headquarters of the ruling Republican Party to mark Armenia’s independence day and express their discontent with the government. They said they had received official permission for the protest. The Alliance of Freedom Fighters consists of Armenian veterans of the war fought over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh war who are outspoken government critics.

The attack on Hakobian is the second on a prominent member of the group in Yerevan in the last year. In late 2014, unidentified attackers assaulted three members who had participated in a series of opposition rallies. No one has been held accountable for those attacks.

Other protesters have also faced physical violence in the last year. In late June, police used force against demonstrators opposed to a proposed 17 percent increase in electricity rates. Those demonstrations continued to protest the police use of force. In September, police also forcibly dispersed a second protest over electricity costs.

Armenia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and has clear obligations under the convention not only to respect the right to peaceful assembly, but also to ensure the security of those exercising that right and protect them from unlawful interference by others.

Armenia also has obligations to carry out effective investigations into attacks on bodily integrity and personal security and to ensure that police use of force is in compliance with international standards. Those standards limit use of force to situations in which it is absolutely necessary to respond to physical threats to the police or others and then is strictly proportionate and nondiscriminatory.

“People in Armenia shouldn’t be risking serious injury to take part in a peaceful protest,” Denber said. “The government needs to make clear that anyone who interferes with peaceful protesters will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”