By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) on Wednesday praised the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for its decision not to impose sanctions against Armenia over the continuing imprisonment of dozens of opposition members.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman, also welcomed the fact that the PACE stopped short of describing them as political prisoners in its latest resolution adopted on Tuesday. “I consider that decision to be the result of the recent display of political will and reforms on the part of the authorities headed by the president,” he said.
The PACE resolution says that supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian “may have been charged and imprisoned for political motivations.” Its initial version referred to the existence of political prisoners in Armenia as a proven fact.
Language of the resolution was significantly amended after two representatives of the PACE Monitoring Committee, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, visited Yerevan and met Sarkisian and other Armenian officials earlier this month. The latter promised to amend articles 225 and 300 of the Armenian Criminal Code that deal with attempts to “usurp state authority by force” and organize “mass disturbances” and have been used in the prosecution of the most prominent of the jailed oppositionists.
The pledge led the PACE to refrain from suspending the voting rights of its Armenian members. Officials in Strasbourg hope that it will result in the release of the arrested opposition leaders in the coming months.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) is far more skeptical on this score. “If the past is any indication, the Armenian authorities have almost certainly made this proposal in order to win time and find some way of circumventing the problem,” the HAK said in a statement on Wednesday.
The opposition alliance also argued that most of about 60 opposition members and supporters remaining in prison have been charged under different articles of the Criminal Code. “Does the focus on articles 225 and 300 mean that the other cases will now be brushed aside?” it said.
The HAK further criticized Prescott and Colombier for avoiding any meetings with opposition representatives during their last trip to Yerevan. “Had they done so, they would have been able to check their information more carefully, and more generally, take into account the input of the other side in the internal conflict of Armenia when preparing their amendments,” it said. “They have not done so, and we believe the quality of their report, and consequently the credibility of the PACE, has suffered as a result.”