By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s top state human rights official refused on Wednesday to intervene in the controversial eviction of opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and his supporters from the government-owned offices of their Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian was among several senior officials to whom Hovannisian sent a written complaint following a fresh closure of his Yerevan headquarters on Tuesday. The letter, titled “A report about a crime,” alleged that governments agents illegally accessed Zharangutyun computers last March to retrieve confidential information about thousands of party activists.
Harutiunian said he will forward the complaint to law-enforcement authorities because he is not in a position to investigate alleged crimes. “The only way in which the human rights defender can react to such reports is to forward them, with the applicant’s consent, to competent bodies,” he told a news conference. “This is what we are going to do.”
“There is nothing more I can do,” he said.
Hovannisian and other government critics will argue, however, that human rights abuses, which the ombudsman is supposed to highlight and combat, are also technically serious crimes. Hundreds of ordinary Armenians report alleged violations of their rights to the Office of the Human Rights Defender each month.
Harutiunian said he has received about 770 such complaints since taking over as ombudsman in February. He said 80 percent of them allege violations of due process and unfair decisions taken by courts and local government bodies. He claimed that he lacks the legal powers to deal with many of those complaints.
Harutiunian, who had previously worked as a legal adviser to President Robert Kocharian, was elected ombudsman by Armenia’s Kocharian-controlled parliament. His predecessor, Larisa Alaverdian, was far more critical of the Armenian authorities’ human rights record and repeatedly challenged their policies.
The Zharangutyun offices were first sealed off on March 4 after their owner, a state-run theater, unilaterally terminated a long-running lease agreement with Hovannisian. The opposition leader sued the theater management and won a court injunction ordering the latter to return the property to the tenant pending a final court ruling on the case.
Justice Ministry bailiffs allowed Hovannisian and other Zharangutyun leaders to re-enter the premises on Monday only to force them out the next day. The oppositionists condemned their actions as illegal and politically motivated.
(Photolur photo: Armen Harutiunian.)