By Anush Martirosian
The only opposition member of the Armenian delegation at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) urged the government on Tuesday to spare Armenia sanctions threatened by the human rights body by freeing all “political prisoners.”
The PACE’s Monitoring Committee said after a meeting in Paris last week that the Armenian government has failed to comply with two PACE resolutions demanding the release of dozens of opposition members arrested after the February 19 presidential election. It said the Strasbourg-based assembly should therefore suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members at its next session due in late January.
“The presidential authority has led us to a situation where the state of Armenia, its delegation [at the PACE] and our overall capacity to solve national issues are under threat for very obvious reasons,” Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and a delegation member, told RFE/RL.
“The authorities must take a decision,” he said. “If they take no steps before the January session [of the PACE] to release our compatriots already recognized as political prisoners, Armenia and its delegation will be subjected to sanctions. I feel sorry and ashamed that the authorities have put our country, state and the delegation in jeopardy.”
The authorities hope that the Monitoring Committee’s two Armenia rapporteurs, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, will reconsider their recommendations to the Strasbourg-based assembly after they visit Yerevan ahead of the PACE session. It is not clear if they are ready to free the jailed oppositionists, described as political prisoners by the committee, en masse. A spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party suggested on Monday that the Council of Europe will not after all sanction Yerevan.
Hovannisian walked out of a PACE session in June in protest against its failure to impose such sanctions. He said he will not participate in the 47-nation assembly’s work until “Armenia meets standards – its own and Europe’s – and Europe rises to the realization of its own values, rights and benchmarks.”