By Ruzanna Stepanian
A senior European Union envoy met late Thursday with one of the Armenian opposition leaders imprisoned following the February 2008 presidential election, highlighting EU concerns about the political situation in Armenia.
According to the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), Peter Semneby, the EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, visited former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian at a maximum-security prison in downtown Yerevan. In a written statement, the HAK said they discussed lingering political tensions in the country as well as details of the criminal case brought against Arzumanian and six other opposition figures.
The seven men went on a joint trial in December, accused of organizing the March 1, 2008 unrest in Yerevan with the aim of toppling the government. They strongly deny the charges as politically motivated.
The so-called “case of the seven” has prompted concern from international human rights bodies such as the Council of Europe. The organization’s Parliament Assembly (PACE) agreed not to impose sanctions against Armenia late last month after the Yerevan government pledged to amend Criminal Code clauses used against the seven oppositionists. PACE officials say the amendments should result in their early release from prison.
It is not clear if the issue was on the agenda of Semneby’s meeting on Wednesday with President Serzh Sarkisian. The latter’s press office said they discussed the course of unspecified “reforms” implemented in Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as well as Armenia’s participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. It offers six former Soviet republics the prospect of much closer political and economic ties with the 27-nation bloc.
Visiting Yerevan last month, the EU’s External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Armenia needs to “maximize your reform efforts” aimed at good governance if it is to qualify for the scheme. She met Sarkisian, other senior government officials and the HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, during the trip.
Semneby also held talks Ter-Petrosian on Thursday. “During the meeting, they discussed ways of overcoming the internal political crisis and the severe socioeconomic situation,” the HAK said in a separate statement. It said “the issue of political prisoners and their release” was also on the agenda.
Aram Manukian, a senior member of the HAK, said on Friday that opposition representatives gave Semneby video of police actions against more than 30 young opposition supporters that tried to demonstrate outside the Central Election Commission on the first anniversary of the disputed election on Thursday. The far more numerous police officers used force to keep them from approaching the building.
The HAK condemned the use of force, saying that it proves that “the regime is reaffirming the terrible fraud committed one year ago.” The opposition alliance also urged Armenians to attend a rally which it plans to hold in central Yerevan on the first anniversary of the March 1 unrest. The municipal authorities have refused to permit the protest.
“The rally will take place anyway,” Manukian told reporters. “No force can stop the powerful masses.”
Manukian seemed confident that the police will not try to break up the rally, as was the case during similar protests staged by the opposition in the summer and fall of last year. “They will not do any imprudent things,” he said.