By Ruzanna Stepanian
A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Friday criticized the continuing imprisonment on criminal charges of more than a dozen individuals arrested in connection with the opposition campaign for regime change in Armenia.
Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, who heads the OSCE office in Yerevan, said the law-enforcement authorities’ decision to keep the opposition activists in jail pending the inquiry into their alleged coup attempts and “hooligan” acts is too strict and unjustified.
“We insist on a detailed investigation into all those cases in order to rule out a biased and politically motivated treatment of [the detainees],” Pryakhin told RFE/RL. “There is no criminal substance as such [in their actions] or it is too insignificant to warrant such a preventive measure.”
“Undoubtedly their detention was politically motivated and linked to their political activities. But during those activities they may have carried out actions that are punishable by criminal law,” he said.
The Russian diplomat acknowledged that the OSCE played a role in the release earlier this week of two senior members of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party accused of publicly insulting the authorities. He said he will hold more meetings with Armenian prosecutors to discuss the fate of the other detainees.
At least 11 opposition activists are kept in jail on criminal charges. Three of them have already been sentenced to between 9 and 18 months in prison by courts. The opposition and some local human rights groups regard all of them as political prisoners.
The authorities have also detained and briefly jailed in the last two months more than one hundred participants of unsanctioned opposition rallies under Armenia’s Soviet-era code of Administrative Offences. Opposition sources say 15 people are currently serving prison terms ranging from 8 to 10 days.
The authorities continue to resort to the controversial “administrative detentions” despite repeated protests from the Council of Europe and other international watchdogs. According to Pryakhin, the OSCE also stands for the abolition of what he described as a “vicious practice.” “The administrative detentions is a legacy of Soviet jurisprudence which allowed law-enforcement bodies to detain certain dissident individuals for the so-called prophylactic purposes,” he said.
“We have set a goal of having this vicious practice scrapped this year,” Pryakhin added.
Between 200 and 400 opposition supporters were jailed in similar circumstances during and in the aftermath of last year’s disputed presidential election. The arrests were criticized by Amnesty International on Wednesday. “Reportedly denied access to lawyers, they were sentenced in closed trials without legal representation,” the London-based group said in an annual report on human rights abuses around the world.