By Karine Kalantarian
A law-enforcement agency investigating Armenia’s deadly post-election violence broke the law when it instructed regional prosecutors to round up participants of the opposition rallies in Yerevan and interrogate their neighbors, human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian said on Friday.
Harutiunian referred to a written directive which Andranik Mirzoyan, head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), sent to the chief prosecutor of the southern Vayots Dzor region four days after the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and riot troops. A copy of the order was obtained and made public by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian last week.
It emerged that Mirzoyan ordered the regional prosecutor to identify and question all Vayots Dzor residents who took part in the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition’s Yerevan rallies demanding a re-run of the February 19 presidential election. The prosecutor was specifically told to find out with whom the opposition supporters communicated from February 20 through March 2, whether they urged their neighbors to join the rallies and “how they are described by the neighbors.” He also had to collect written descriptions of the opposition supporters’ closest relatives and other personal data, including “what property they own.”
Mirzoyan, whose agency is subordinate Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General, defended and justified his actions in a July 1 interview with RFE/RL. He admitted sending out similar directives to other regional prosecutors as well as the heads of police and National Security Service divisions.
Ter-Petrosian and his associates have said the publicized document is illegal and proves that the government crackdown on the opposition has been accompanied by grave human rights abuses.
Harutiunian gave weight to the opposition allegations after examining the legality of Mirzoyan’s letter. He said that Armenia’s Code of Procedural Justice and other laws do not empower the SIS to send directives to regional and other prosecutors.
“An investigative order can not be given to a prosecutor,” the state human rights defender told a news conference. “It can only be addressed to an investigative body [subordinated to the prosecutor.]”
“It is necessary to clarify what actions the Vayots Dzor prosecutor took on the basis of that directive and whether similar directives were issued to the police,” he said. “If so, they are illegal because he is not an overseeing prosecutor in charge of that particular case and can not get engaged in the case on the basis of such an investigative order.” Any incriminating evidence collected as a result of the order from Yerevan should therefore be ignored by courts, he added.
Harutiunian added that he is also “bewildered” by the content of Mirzoyan’s orders but will reserve final judgment on them until familiarizing himself with all details of the ongoing investigation into what the authorities call an opposition conspiracy to stage a coup d’etat.
In addition to gathering personal information about local opposition supporters, the Vayots Dzor prosecutor was also instructed to make them testify about “what was said at the rallies about the assistance from foreign states” and “whether rally participants spoke about ending Russia’s presence in Armenia.”
In a statement earlier this week, the SIS said such questions are “logical and necessary” because it believes that Ter-Pertosian’s bid for regime change was “organized by one center” and “financed from board.” It did not elaborate.