By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia has thus far mostly failed to comply with the repeated demands of the Council of Europe in its current handling of the post-election crisis, said Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, who ended his three-day fact-finding visit to Armenia at the weekend.
The Strasbourg official specifically said that his criticism concerned the lack of progress in exposing those responsible for the post-election violence on March 1 as well as the continuing criminal investigations and trials of opposition activists in connection with those events.
At a press conference in Yerevan on Saturday, Hammarberg said in a report he is going to submit to the Council of Europe soon he will mention as the only positive development the fact that a fact-finding group has been set up in Armenia to conduct an additional probe into the March 1 unrest at an expert level. At the same time, the commissioner said he will have to critically assess the general lack of progress in his report.
“We are bound to be critical when it comes to developments or lack of developments,” Hammarberg emphasized to reporters.
In particular, Hammarberg criticized Armenian prosecutors and judicial authorities for the continuing case against several oppositionists, which he said lacked a strong ground to be initiated in the first place.
“I am critical about some of the trials that have already been concluded and about the preparation of the major case against the seven prisoners,” Hammarberg said in reference to the case of seven leading opposition members, including Alexander Arzumanian, Armenia’s ex-foreign minister and leading supporter of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in last February’s presidential election, as well as three members of parliament who have been jailed since March for their alleged roles in the post-election developments. All are charged under Article 300 of Armenia’s Criminal Code (“usurpation of state power”) and part 2 of Article 225 (“instigating and organizing mass disturbances”).
The Strasbourg official said he would express his final opinion on the case of the oppositionists after the indictment in the case was ready. But he expressed doubts that there was “a sufficient ground even to start the trial against those seven.”
“I have not so far seen any strong evidence which would make it possible for an independent court to sentence these seven for attempting to change power in this country with violence,” Hammarberg said.
He also called it unacceptable that the scripts of wiretapped phone conversations of the defendants in the case had been published in the press, which, he said, is an unacceptable phenomenon in a law-abiding state, since it invades privacy and violates personal data protection rights.
“These methods are unacceptable for a society guided by human rights protection,” Hammarberg underscored.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner said he had received reports about pressures put on witnesses during trials. He also called it admissible that charges and verdicts in a number of cases and trials examining clashes between police and protesters had been based solely on police testimony, in which case, according to him, additional evidence is required.
Before leaving Yerevan, Hammarberg said he was disappointed about the pieces of information he had learned while on the visit.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner is due to submit his report to the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in January. The session, in particular, is expected to discuss Armenia’s compliance with its resolutions 1609 and 1620.
“I believe that what I testify to them would have some importance for their conclusion when it comes to the possible sanction, which would mean that the parliamentary delegation from Armenia would be deprived of their right to vote,” Hammarberg said. “The fact that other things happened, such as the Georgia war, the Karabakh discussion, Turkey, etcetera, does not change the fact that this is seen as a serious matter in the Council of Europe. We need to protect the standards that we have agreed upon.”
(PHOTOLUR photo, Thomas Hammarberg)