By Astghik Bedevian
The Armenian government is unlikely to abolish its controversial restrictions on opposition rallies despite pressure from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian said on Monday.
The restrictions took the form of amendments to Armenia’s law on public gatherings passed by parliament following the March 1 suppression of post-election protests staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. They give the Armenian police and the National Security Service (NSS) a virtually unlimited power to ban further anti-government rallies.
In a joint statement last week, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said the restrictions run counter to European standards and should be repealed. Experts from the two watchdogs are scheduled to discuss the matter with Armenian officials on April 15-16.
According to Danielian, a key author of the amendments, the government is only prepared to make “editorial clarifications” in the text of the law. “There will hardly be a need to change the fundamental provisions of this law,” he told RFE/RL.
But David Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs, was less categorical on that count. “This is a unique opportunity to further improve our law and bring it into conformity with European standards,” he told RFE/RL.
Even so, Harutiunian, who also heads the Armenian delegation at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), defended the extra powers given to the police and the NSS and ruled out the restoration of the previous, more liberal version of the law. “I don’t think the previous [version of the] law answered all questions,” he said.
The Armenian authorities say that the de facto ban on opposition rallies is necessary for preventing a repeat of the March 1 clashes between security forces and opposition supporters that left at least seven civilians and one police officer dead. Ter-Petrosian and his allies dismiss this explanation, saying that the ban is unconstitutional.