By Karine Kalantarian
Council of Europe (CE) Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg completed his five-day fact-finding mission in Armenia on Thursday, concluding that his preliminary information about the human rights situation in the country “corresponded to the impressions he got while on this visit.”
Hammarberg, who has held various meetings with Armenian officials, as well as visited some residents of makeshift lodgings in the earthquake area and prisoners, pointed out some problems pertaining to legislation. He urged Armenia’s authorities to ensure that the country’s amended constitution and new judicial legislation should have practical application “to promote an effective and fair judiciary.”
“There are also problems of a social character which need to be addressed,” he added.
The CE commissioner on Wednesday also met with Zhirayr Sefilian, Vartan Malkhasian and Arman Babajanian, who were convicted and jailed under different penal code articles in criminal cases that many believe were persecution for their political views.
Hammarberg found it difficult to say with confidence whether fair verdicts had been passed on the prisoners he met, but added that “there is a need to look into their cases to secure that they got a fair treatment.”
Editor of the opposition “Zhamanak Yerevan” newspaper Arman Babajanian, who is currently serving a 3.5-year prison term for forging documents to evade compulsory military service, confirmed having a meeting with Hammarberg in a telephone conversation with RFE/RL.
“Mr. Hammarberg was quite well informed on the whole process and regards my case in the context of the general human rights situation in Armenia,” Babajanian said, adding that the CE commissioner had promised him to raise the issue during his meeting with Armenia’s prime minister and prosecutor general.
Issues related to Armenia’s law on exemption from compulsory military service will also be covered by Hammarberg’s human rights situation report which the commissioner is going to submit to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers early next year. One of the points of the law envisages exemption of certain draft-dodgers from criminal prosecution in exchange for paying a state duty. Babajanian claims he was denied the application of the law in his case, which he thinks he was eligible for. He also asserts that the parole committee’s rejection of his application for early release was groundless.
“I don’t cherish great hopes that I will be paroled in this pre-election period. It is clear that the authorities are growing more and more concerned over the new political realities and processes,” Babajanian said.
Hammarberg confirmed that he was informed of article 301 of Armenia’s Criminal Code which envisages criminal prosecution for public calls for a violent overthrow of government and was controversially used against prominent Karabakh war veterans Vartan Malkhasian and Zhirayr Sefilian.
“This sounds like an issue that we should explore,” Hammarberg concluded.