By Ruzanna Stepanian
The United States remains seriously concerned about the continuing imprisonment of Armenian opposition members and expects the authorities in Yerevan to close the controversial criminal cases against them, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Thursday.
“We would urge the government to take action to close these cases in a manner that is open and transparent and fair,” said Marie Yovanovitch, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Armenia. She said the government should differentiate between those individuals who “exercised their political rights” during and after the disputed February 19 presidential election and those who engaged in violence.
Most of the more than 70 jailed supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian are standing trial or have already been sentenced on charges mainly stemming from the deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan. The most prominent of the detainees, among them three members of parliament, have yet to go on trial.
According to Yovanovitch, the U.S. continues to believe that at least some of these oppositionists were arrested and prosecuted for political reasons. “That is a cause of great concern, and it’s a concern that we have certainly shared with the government,” she said. “It’s a concern that we have also shared more publicly.”
The ambassador did not name any of the jailed oppositionists are regarded as political prisoners by the U.S. The existence of such prisoners, also recognized by the Council of Europe and other international bodies, has soured U.S.-Armenian relations, leading Washington to effectively freeze additional economic assistance to Armenia administered by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC board declined to unblock the assistance when it again discussed the matter last month.
Even so, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised President Serzh Sarkisian for his efforts to overcome Armenia’s worst political crisis in nearly a decade when she met him in New York last week. “We believe that you have made some good steps to address this,” Rice told Sarkisian.