A top U.S. official called on Wednesday for the release of the Armenian opposition members and supporters remaining in prison after a general amnesty declared by the authorities last month.
The nearly two dozen oppositionists, who were arrested following the February 2008 presidential election, are not eligible for immediate release because they were sentenced to more than five years in prison. About 30 other supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian received shorter sentences and were therefore set free late last month.
“Something good happened,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told RFE/RL, commenting on the amnesty. “There were these releases that we’ve asked for quite some time. It’s positive.”
“We welcome that and at the same time we hope there will be more,” he said. “We hope they will all be released.”
Bryza and other U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the fate of Ter-Petrosian loyalists that they believe were jailed for exercising their political rights in the wake of the disputed ballot. The Armenian government’s harsh post-election crackdown on the opposition led Washington to freeze about one third of $235.6 in additional economic assistance to Armenia.
The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) cancelled the $67 million segment of the aid package, which was set aside for rural road rehabilitation, altogether last month. Bryza linked the move with the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan which he said marked “no step forward” in Armenia’s transition to democracy.
The diplomat expressed hope that the amnesty will lead to a “re-energizing of democratic reforms” in the country. “As a partner and friend of Armenia, we are willing to work with the government of Armenia, as these other reforms go forward, to find additional money,” he said. “Maybe not in the Millennium Challenge Corporation but elsewhere so that these people in rural areas, who are suffering sometimes from poverty, have an easier life.”