By Ruben Meloyan and Anush Martirosian
A key panel of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) was due to again decide late Monday whether to recommend sanctions against the Armenian authorities over their 2008 post-election crackdown on the opposition.
The authorities’ compliance with the most recent PACE resolution on Armenia was among the issues on the agenda of a regular meeting of the Monitoring Committee held in Valencia, Spain. The PACE will discuss and most probably rubber-stamp the committee’s recommendations at its next session due in late April.
The resolution, adopted in late January, concluded that the authorities have failed to address the PACE’s repeated demands for the immediate release of dozens of opposition members and supporters arrested on “artificial or politically motivated charges” following the February 2008 presidential election. But the Strasbourg-based assembly backed down on its threats to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members, citing Yerevan’s pledge to amend two articles of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with attempts to “usurp state authority by force” and organize “mass disturbances.” It said many of the oppositionists jailed in connection with the deadly post-election unrest in Yerevan could be set free as a result.
The Criminal Code clauses have been used in the prosecution of the most prominent of the jailed oppositionists. The Armenian parliament approved a package of amendments to them in the second and final reading on March 18. One of the amendments detailed various forms of power usurpation and toughened punishment for some of them.
David Harutiunian, head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, declared afterwards that the authorities in Yerevan have satisfied the key demand of the resolution. He said he therefore expects a “positive conclusion” from the Monitoring Committee.
“The changes in Articles 225 and 300 [of the code] should produce a result,” Razmik Zohrabian, another senior lawmaker representing the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), agreed on Monday. But he effectively ruled out a wholesale release of the seven opposition figures standing trial on corresponding charges.
Zohrabian said some of these individuals, among them three opposition parliamentarians, could walk free only after the end of their ongoing trial. “I’m saying that this is possible,” he told journalists. “I’m not saying that they will definitely be free tomorrow. It’s up to the prosecutors and the court to decide that.”
Citing the amendments, the three arrested lawmakers appealed to the National Assembly last week to hold a special session and reconsider a March 2008 decision to lift their legal immunity from prosecution. Speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority discussed and rejected the appeal on Monday.
“There are no legal grounds for the National Assembly to intervene in the affair now,” said Heghine Bisharian of the Orinats Yerkir party. Bisharian said the assembly will wait and see how state prosecutors will alter their accusations leveled against Sasun Mikaelian, Miasnik Malkhasian and Hakob Hakobian in accordance with the amendments. Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian will send a relevant letter to lawmakers this week, she added.
“The parliament’s statutes do not bars us from making a new decision,” countered Zaruhi Postanjian, a parliament deputy from the opposition. Postanjian claimed that her colleagues’ detention is now “illegal” because the parliament allowed their prosecution on different charges.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) insisted that the authorities have failed to comply with the PACE resolution. Levon Zurabian, a senior HAK representative, pointed to the continuing imprisonment of not only the seven men but also some 50 other oppositionists. Many of them were convicted and given prison sentences solely on the basis of police testimony, a practice strongly condemned the Council of Europe.
Zurabian told RFE/RL that the HAK has presented these and other facts in a letter to the Monitoring Committee and its two Armenia rapporteurs.
(Photolur photo: John Prescott, left, and Georges Colombier, the Monitoring Commitee's rapporteurs on Armenia.)