In a further measure designed to thwart renewed opposition protests in Yerevan, the Armenian government pushed through parliament on Wednesday a bill that could leave former President Levon Ter-Petrosian without armed bodyguards provided by the state.
Ter-Petrosian is among serving and former high-ranking state officials whose personal security is ensured by the State Protections Service (SPS) in accordance with a special law. All of his bodyguards are employees of the security agency run by Grisha Sarkisian, who has long been in charge of President Robert Kocharian’s security detail.
Under government-drafted amendments to that law adopted by the National Assembly in the first reading, the former president can be temporarily or irreversibly stripped of armed protection by the STS if he engages in “illicit activities.” They are expected to be passed in the final reading on Thursday.
Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian admitted that the amendments stem from the unrest that followed last month’s disputed presidential election in which Ter-Petrosian was the main opposition candidate. The ex-president refused to recognize Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s victory in the February 19 vote, alleging widespread fraud and rallying tens of thousands of supporters in Yerevan. The Armenian authorities used force to halt the daily protests March 1.
Ter-Petrosian has been kept under de facto house arrest, with the authorities claiming that they can no longer guarantee his security. They say he can leave his house overlooking central Yerevan only after renouncing SPS protection in writing. The opposition leader has refused to do that so far.
The changes in the law regulating the SPS’s activities came the day after the government-controlled parliament amended Armenia’s law on public gatherings in way that will make it easier for the authorities to ban further rallies which Ter-Petrosian plans to hold after the lifting of a state of emergency in Yerevan. Ter-Petrosian’s office swiftly rejected the restrictions as unconstitutional and said Armenians have a “legitimate right” to ignore them.
“It is obvious that these changes allow for an arbitrary prohibition of any rally,” Stepan Demirchian, a prominent opposition leader allied to Ter-Petrosian, told RFE/RL on Wednesday. “The authorities must realize that it is impossible to overcome this crisis with repressive methods.”