By Astghik Bedevian
President Serzh Sarkisian pardoned at the weekend 16 more individuals arrested and convicted in connection with last year’s post-election violence in Yerevan, but the Armenian opposition insisted that only two of them are its supporters.
The presidential press service said all of these individuals had appealed to Sarkisian for an amnesty. It said the presidential decree signed on Saturday also took into account their lack of prior criminal records as well as health conditions and family circumstances.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) was quick to brush aside the move as a ploy designed to mislead the international community. “The decree is a collection of lies,” the HAK charged in a statement on Sunday, saying that only two of the pardoned men, Vartan Gasparian and Tigran Hakobian, had been on the opposition list of some 60 “political prisoners.”
The HAK said the 14 other individuals have no links to the opposition and that all but one of them had been arrested for looting shops during the March 1 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters demanding a re-run of the February 2008 presidential election. At least six of them received suspended prison sentences, added the statement.
Sarkisian’s office did not list theft or looting among the accusations that were leveled against the 16 persons. It mentioned instead illegal arms possession, resistance to the police and participation in “mass disturbances.”
The amnesties came just three days before a session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that will decide whether to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members. PACE officials have accused the Sarkisian administration of failing to fully comply with the Strasbourg-based assembly’s resolutions that demanded the release of opposition supporters arrested on “artificial or politically motivated charges.”
The HAK statement said the presidential decree is aimed at “influencing” PACE members. “The resolutions demand the release of political prisoners, whereas the authorities release criminal elements,” Armen Khachatrian, an HAK representative, told RFE/RL.
Despite the PACE threats of sanctions, Sarkisian has refused to call a general amnesty for all oppositionists remaining in prison. The Armenian president so far been willing to pardon only those detainees that have confessed to controversial accusations leveled against them.