By Emil Danielyan
The Constitutional Court has added its voice to the domestic and international outcry over the arrests of hundreds of opposition activists that followed the February 19 first round of the Armenian presidential election.
The court ruled late Wednesday that the imprisonment of individuals attending unsanctioned rallies held by opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian ran counter to the European Convention on Human Rights which Armenia had signed as part of its accession to the Council of Europe.
This conclusion, which deals a blow to the Armenian government’s justification for the crackdown, is contained in the Constitutional Court verdict on an appeal against the official election results filed by Demirchian. It says the “administrative arrests” sanctioned by Armenian courts of first instance “do not meet European standards for rule-of-law states.”
The court said it is particularly concerned about the fact that many of those sentenced to between 3 and 15 days’ imprisonment were Demirchian proxies who were thus unable to continue to monitor the electoral process handled by government-controlled commissions. The opposition proxies, it said, played an “important role” during both rounds of voting.
The Armenian Justice Ministry, which has strongly defended the arrests, declined on Thursday to comment on the ruling on the grounds that it has not yet been formally sent to the government. Ministry officials say more than 200 persons have been jailed or fined for allegedly “disrupting public order” and committing “hooligan acts” during the Demirchian rallies. Opposition leaders put their number at about 400.
More such arrests were reported as recently as last Tuesday, following yet another demonstration held by Demirchian’s Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. The detainees have typically been tried in closed sessions without having access to lawyers.
The crackdown, carried out under Armenia’s Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offences, has been denounced by international human rights organizations such as the Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has demanded that official Yerevan stop enforcing provisions of the code dealing with the administrative arrests, saying that those fall short of European standards.
The Armenian Justice Ministry effectively rejected that demand on March 24, saying that Armenia did not undertake to do that when it was admitted into the Strasbourg-based organization in January 2001. Council of Europe officials, however, insisted that amending the controversial Administrative Code is among of the country’s membership obligations.