By Hovannes Shoghikian
Law-enforcement authorities dismissed on Thursday growing indications that they are pressing opposition members convicted in connection with last year’s post-election violence in Yerevan to admit their guilt and ask President Serzh Sarkisian for clemency.
The Armenian opposition has alleged such pressure on its supporters since three men imprisoned for their involvement in the March 1 clashes were granted an amnesty and set free after pleading guilty to controversial accusations leveled against them. Sarkisian pardoned nine more such individuals on Monday. He has refused to declare a general amnesty for all of approximately 60 jailed oppositionists, something which would not require an admission of guilt on their part.
Opposition sources say prison administrations were instructed by the presidential administration to ensure many more amnesty pleas ahead of Thursday’s crucial visit to Yerevan by senior officials from the Council of Europe.
An Armenian Justice department to which those administrations are subordinated denied this. “The spread of such disinformation is one of the special tricks used by some political forces for drawing the penitentiary system into political intrigues,” a department spokesman, Arsen Babayan, told RFE/RL. He said departments officials only inform prison inmates about their “rights and obligations.”
But Hovannes Harutiunian, a well-known opposition activist serving a 18-month sentence, claimed the opposite as he spoke to RFE/RL from Yerevan’s Vartashen prison where many of the jailed oppositionists are being kept. “We were informed by the prison administration yesterday that there is an opportunity to write to the president and be freed,” Harutiunian said by phone. He said none of them agreed to appeal to Sarkisian.
Similar claims were also made by other opposition members who were released from prison last year after receiving suspended prison sentences. David Hambartsumian, a resident of the eastern Gegharkunik region, said that local police officers drove him to Yerevan on Thursday for a “conversation” with officials from the Justice Ministry.
“They came to my house yesterday, saying that we should go to Yerevan because I will be granted an amnesty,” Hambartsumian told RFE/RL. He said ministry officials also urged him to do that, arguing that his crime record would be erased.
“They insisted that I write to Serzh [Sarkisian] and say I was guilty so he can grant me an amnesty,” he said. “I told them that I am a war veteran and can’t do such things, and so let my conviction stand.”
Two opposition activists in the northern town of Vanadzor, who were also given two-year suspended prison sentences last year, told a similar story. “Last night a police colonel called me and asked to come down,” one of them, Grisha Simonian, told RFE/RL. “I went down. He said I should write an application to the president, asking him for an amnesty. I said I don’t need an amnesty.”
(Photolur photo: Protesters demand the release of opposition members.)