Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian said on Tuesday that he has addressed concerns voiced by the head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) about a government bill regulating the crowd control powers of law-enforcement bodies.
Tovmasian and the NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, clashed over the issue at a cabinet meeting last week. The package of legal amendments drafted by the Ministry of Justice is meant to bring Armenian freedom of assembly legislation into greater conformity with European standards.
Hakobian complained that Tovmasian submitted it to the government at too short a notice and criticized some of its provisions. He also scoffed at the fact that the proposed changes have been endorsed by European legal experts.
Tovmasian responded by citing Article 29 of the Armenian constitution that guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian intervened to stop the tense exchange.
According to Tovmasian, representatives of the Justice Ministry, the NSS, the Armenian police as well as President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff met in the following days. He said they worked out “clarifications” that addressed Hakobian’s concerns.
“There have been discussions and some minor corrections have been made in the text,” the justice minister told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The process will continue in the National Assembly.”
Tovmasian insisted that his personal rapport with the chief of the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB is “very good and warm.” “He is my senior partner in the government,” he said.
The proposed amendments are aimed at preventing a repeat of the March 2008 street clashes between security forces and opposition protesters that left ten people dead. The Armenian authorities’ handling of the 2008 opposition protests has been criticized by domestic and international human rights groups.
The criticism has been echoed by the Council of Europe. Its commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, visited Yerevan late last month to discuss the lingering fallout from those events with Armenian government officials and political leaders. He called for the release of about a dozen opposition members remaining in prison.
Tovmasian refused to say whether the Armenian government will heed Hammarberg’s appeal. “In terms of political rights, it’s not Mr. Hammarberg who should change anything here,” he said.
“It’s good that they visit here, that we are integrating into European structures. But I would urge journalists not to expect that someone will come here and something will change in our country as a result,” added the minister.