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Armenia’s human rights defender has criticized the authorities for failing to show full commitment to the principles of freedom of assembly. In an ad hoc report unveiled in Yerevan on Tuesday, Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian also blamed certain vague provisions in the current legislation for the situation.

The report reviews the situation with the freedom of assembly in Armenia since the 2008 presidential election till today. It concludes that the principles of “state obligation to protect peaceful rallies, exclusion of discrimination and other principles” have been violated.

“The conduct of public authorities in many cases gives reasons to assume that they fail to fully appreciate the importance of freedom of assembly,” Harutiunian said during the presentation of the report.

According to the data published in the report, the authorities of Yerevan rejected more than 80 requests for holding public rallies in the city in 2008.

“There were not that many requests for public rallies in 2009 and particularly so far this year and the number of rejections isn’t that large correspondingly, because it is not a pre-election period now. The same problems, however, may recur during pre-election periods, as the legislation remains the same,” he said.

The Armenian parliament introduced drastic changes in the freedom of assembly legislation shortly after nonstop rallies staged by the opposition after the disputed 2008 presidential election led to the country’s worst political crisis. The changes severely restricted the rights to hold rallies and demonstrations and gave local authorities sweeping powers to reject requests for holding protest events based on vague conclusions of law-enforcement agencies. The Armenian lawmakers later removed some of the restrictions under pressure from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, but did not fully revert to the version of the law that existed before March 2008.

The ombudsman’s latest report does not refer to cases of violence, police detentions and criminal prosecution applied against oppositionists participating in marches of protest in 2009. It only says that citizens’ right to hold marches appeared to be ‘less protected’ than the right to stage rallies.

Harutiunian said he planned to come up with a new draft law to try to fill in the gaps in the existing legislation.

The ombudsman acknowledged the existence of violations in the practice of applying laws, but would not be drawn into a discussion of the ‘democratic credentials’ of the current government.

“An ombudsman is not a politician and this is not a political report,” Harutiunian underscored.
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