By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anush Martirosian
A senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) criticized the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Friday after its senior representatives’ key visit to Yerevan.
John Prescott and Georges Colombier of the PACE Monitoring Committee met President Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian officials on Thursday to discuss their recent calls for the assembly to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members. The talks were widely seen as the Sarkisian administration’s last chance to avoid sanctions during the PACE’s upcoming session in Strasbourg.
Prescott and Colombier made no public statements during the one-day visit. With official Armenian sources also reporting few details of the talks, it is not clear if they continue to seek the sanctions recommended by the Monitoring Committee at a December 17 meeting in Paris.
According to Samvel Nikoyan, a senior HHK lawmaker who also met the committee rapporteurs, they remained concerned about the continuing imprisonment of dozens of opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election. “They still had those concerns and they shared them with us,” he told RFE/RL.
Nikoyan, who also heads an ad hoc parliamentary commission investigating the post-election deadly clashes in Yerevan, criticized the Monitoring Committee for describing the jailed oppositionists as “political prisoners” at the Paris meeting. “I think that since the Monitoring Committee met [in December] and made explicit evaluations, using the term ‘political prisoners,’ it has not been guided by the interests of those prisoners and our state,” he said.
Nikoyan hinted that the Armenian authorities will not release them from jail en masse in order to prevent the PACE sanctions. “I have repeatedly said the authority must make concessions,” he said. “But we must understand one thing: the authority can’t lose.”
This stance was denounced as reckless by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) which has repeatedly accused the authorities of jeopardizing Armenia’s international reputation. “It is evident that the authorities have no prudence whatsoever,” Arman Musinian, an HAK spokesman, told RFE/RL.
Musinian said the Monitoring Committee’s December decision was a major achievement for the opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. “The international community was forced by the burden of facts to admit that there are political prisoners in Armenia,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Samvel Nikoyan.)