By Hovannes Shoghikian
Three more citizens of Armenia controversially imprisoned during and after the disputed 2003 presidential election won on Tuesday lawsuits against their government filed to the European Court of Human Rights.
The court declared the arrests illegal and ordered the Armenian government to pay each of the plaintiffs 4,500 euros ($5,700) in “non-pecuniary” damages. They will also get an additional 3,000 euros worth of compensation each for legal expenses incurred during the lengthy litigation.
Two of them, Lavrenti Kirakosian and Arman Mkhitarian, reside in Karakert, a village in the southern Armavir region. They both participated in March 2003 rallies staged in Yerevan by Stepan Demirchian, the main opposition presidential candidate. They were subsequently arrested and sentenced to ten days in prison for allegedly disobeying police orders and using “foul language” against law-enforcement officers.
The third plaintiff, Miasnik Tadevosian, is a resident of another Armavir village, Mrgashat. A retired senior police officer, he led the regional chapter of the opposition National Unity Party.
Tadevosian was arrested and given a ten-day sentence on the same charge after attending similar anti-government rallies staged by Demirchian and other opposition leaders in March-April 2004.
The three men were imprisoned under the Soviet-era Code of Administrative Offenses. The Armenian authorities used the code for briefly jailing hundreds of participants of unsanctioned opposition rallies. The so-called “administrative arrests” were strongly condemned by local and international human rights organizations. The authorities abolished the practice in 2005 under strong pressure from the Council of Europe.
In separate rulings, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the prison sentences given to the three men violated several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights ratified by Armenia. It said none of them had a fair trial and “adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense.”
The opposition supporters’ defense lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, welcomed the rulings. “The European Court simply certified that the rights of these individuals were violated during and after the presidential elections,” he told RFE/RL. “But whether the authorities will draw appropriate conclusions from these verdicts and refrain from such actions in the future is an open question.”
The authorities could face similar lawsuits from more than 100 other opposition members and supporters who were arrested in the wake of the last presidential election held on February 19. At least 70 of them remain in jail on charges stemming from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan. The Council of Europe and other international bodies say at least some of these detainees were jailed for exercising their political rights.
(Photolur photo: Thousands of opposition supporters rally in Yerevan in February 2003.)