Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, played down on Wednesday harsh criticism of his activities voiced by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Speaking at a rally held by his Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Tuesday, Ter-Petrosian condemned Harutiunian for declining to describe his imprisoned loyalists as political prisoners and to press for their release.
“Esteemed human rights defender, haven’t you understood until now that that is your job, that that is what you get for by taxpayers, and that you yourself must prove that?” he declared. “What have you done until now?”
Ter-Petrosian branded the ombudsman as “one of the most ardent advocates” of President Serzh Sarkisian. “Assuming that he is the defender of a single person’s rights, rather than human rights, then that single person is Serzh Sarkisian,” he said.
Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that he will not respond to the blistering attack. “Every person has the right to freely express their opinion,” he said. But he did note that unlike Ter-Petrosian, he is not a politician and acts “only on the legal plane.”
The more than a dozen oppositionists remaining in jail were among over a hundred Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested following the February 2008 disputed presidential election and a bloody unrest caused by it. International bodies like the Council of Europe have said at least some of them were jailed for political motives and pressed the Sarkisian administration to free them.
In the wake of the unrest, Harutiunian criticized the Armenian authorities’ harsh response to Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 post-election demonstrations. But he subsequently endorsed the findings of an Armenian parliamentary inquiry into the worst street violence in the country’s history. The inquiry conducted by pro-government lawmakers concluded last year that the use of lethal force against opposition protesters was largely justified.