By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s embattled human rights obudsman, Armen Harutiunian, has asked the National Security Service (NSS) to assign armed bodyguards to him and members of his family.
In a letter to the NSS Director Gorik Hakobian made public by his press service on Monday, Harutiunian said they need five bogyuards and two vehicles for that purpose. He said one of the requested cars would escort his personal limousine while the other would cater for his family members.
Harutiunian cited a clause in Armenia’s law on state human rights defender that entitles him and his closest relatives to armed protection by the state. He did not explain why he needs such protection now, more than two years after being elected by parliament on the recommendation of then President Robert Kocharian.
“There is no particular reason for my step,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “I just decided to make use of my legal right.”
Harutiunian, who previously advised Kocharian on constitutional law, has been increasingly at odds with the Armenian authorities in recent months over their harsh response to opposition demonstrations sparked by the disputed presidential election of February 19.
The dispute has centered on the use of lethal force against thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office hours after the break-up of their 10-day sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square on March 1. The authorities have defended their actions, saying that security forces that tried to disperse the angry crowd were not only pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails but also came under gunfire.
Harutiunian cast doubt on the credibility of the official theory in an extensive report issued in late April. The report, cited by European Union and Council of Europe officials, said in particular that the Armenian police have yet to publicize any evidence of the use of firearms by the protesters.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General and the Ministry of Justice voiced strong objections to the ombudsman’s findings in separate reports released in late May. Speaking at special parliamentary hearings on the controversy held in early June, the heads of the two government agencies said that Harutiunian’s report is based on “unfounded” opposition claims and is therefore not objective. The ombudsman rejected the claims.