By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The decision by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) to give the authorities in Yerevan more time to meet its wide-ranging political demands prompted a mixed reaction from the Armenian opposition on Friday.
While finding “positive” points in the PACE’s latest resolution on Armenia, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian accused the Strasbourg-based body of lacking the will to help end the post-election crackdown on his supporters.
The PACE demanded last April the urgent release of all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges,” the scrapping of serious restrictions on freedom of assembly and the launch of an independent inquiry into the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. It warned that failure to take these measures by late June could lead to the suspension of the voting rights of its four Armenian members.
The 47-nation assembly said that Yerevan has failed to fully comply with its April resolution. Nonetheless, it decided not to sanction the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian and to extend the deadline for meeting the PACE demands until January.
“The Council of Europe has proved its inability to force the Armenian authorities to meet the demands contained in the [April] Resolution 1609 within the defined period,” Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement said in a statement read out by Levon Zurabian, a top aide to the opposition leader. “That is the consequence of an indecisive and unprincipled position displayed by the Council of Europe on this issue. Geopolitical and opportunistic calculations have taken precedence over commitment to democratic principles.”
The statement singled out the two main authors of the follow-up resolution, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, for blame. “They will be responsible for the political prisoners’ every further day spent in jail,” it said.
The opposition statement also criticized the PACE for failing to dismiss the Armenian parliament’s decision to form an ad hoc commission tasked with investigating the March 1 unrest. “We do not accept the [PACE’s] refusal to evaluate the independence, credibility and transparency of the commission on the grounds that the commission was created at the last minute,” it said.
The opposition alliance further faulted the PACE for failing to mention the OSCE’s final report on Armenia’s February 19 presidential election. The report significantly toned down Western observers’ initial, largely positive, assessment of the authorities’ conduct of the vote which was endorsed by the PACE in April. “We express regret and bewilderment at the fact that the PACE did not address that and suggest that new presidential elections be held in the Republic of Armenia,” said Zurabian.
On the positive side, the statement noted that the authorities will remain under Council of Europe pressure to release political prisoners and allow the independent TV station A1+ to resume broadcasts.
Despite that pressure, most of more than 100 opposition members and supporters, among them three parliament deputies, arrested after the presidential ballot remain in custody. The vast majority of them were jailed on charges stemming from the March 1 violence.
A Yerevan court on Friday prolonged by another two months the pre-trial arrest of two of the three jailed parliamentarians, Miasnik Malkhasian and Hakob Hakobian. Several dozen opposition supporters demonstrated outside the court building in protest against the rulings.
According to Zurabian, Ter-Petrosian will agree to start a “dialogue” with the authorities if all “political prisoners” are set free by July 4, the date of the next opposition rally planned in Yerevan.
The authorities have refused to authorize the rally despite the recent softening of their legal restrictions on ant-government street protests in the city center. The opposition has said the protest will go ahead despite the ban.